(Oct. 18, 2005) -- Mike Shanahan won my vote for the 2005 Coach of the
Year on Sunday. Unfortunately for Mike, there are two self-evident
matters in play here:
I have no actual vote for the award.
It's still quite early in the season.
I should pause to mention there are no plans to hold a First Annual
Second 3/17ths of the Season Awards, even though the
First Annual First 3/17ths of the Season Awards proved to be a
resounding success not only with you, but also in the TV ratings.
(Editor's Note: The overnights showed The First Annual First
3/17th Awards trounced The Gilmore Girls in the key male
18-34 demographic, although it did lose the overall night to NCIS, which I believe stands for "Not CSI.")
Nevertheless, Shanahan gets my admittedly meaningless vote for Coach of
the Year because not only does he have his Broncos at a surprising 5-1
atop the AFC West, but he also did something uncommonly seen in this day
and age: He played to win, rather than not to lose.
Ah, yes. The dreaded "Prevent Offense."
With Tom Brady and the Patriots in the
midst of mounting a major, big time, The-Dynasty-Is-Still-Intact-type
comeback Sunday, the Broncos withstood the storm. Two rare New England
late fourth-quarter miscues -- a drive-killing intentional grounding
call against Brady preceded by an easy first-down reception dropped by David Givens -- returned the ball to the Broncos on their own 23 with
3:36 remaining in regulation.
How many times have we seen a team with this type of lead subsequently
roll up into a fetal position and run it three straight times, hoping
against hope for a first down? How many times is this team ultimately
forced to leave the victory-sealing play in the hands of the defense --
or placekicker setting up just out of range? And, finally, how many
times does this strategy backfire? Have no fear, we'll provide the
answer: always. It always backfires.
In case you're somehow not hip to this scene, the line of thinking
involved in this late-game gambit goes a little something like this: Any
possible, remote inkling of a notion at being aggressive on
offense greatly increases the chance of turning the ball over, and, of
course, no one wants to do that. Plus, an incomplete pass could allow
the other team to conserve precious timeouts. So, everybody turtle up!
Let's run the ball into the line three straight times -- but whatever
you do, heaven forbid DON'T FUMBLE -- and maybe get a first down. If
not, we'll punt. Who cares if we took only, say, 10 seconds off the
clock? Worse comes to worst, the defense can win the game against an
opposition now forced to run the hurry-up offense with, most likely, no
timeouts left. And everyone knows how difficult that is, except for
Brady and Favre and Montana and Elway and yada, yada, yada… Of course,
there is an inherent problem in this approach: It is completely
counter-intuitive to the widely held and time-tested belief that
football is an aggressive game. Why lose your aggressiveness at the end
when, most likely, it is that aggressiveness that got you the lead in
the first place?
The Broncos did NOT want to give Tom Brady a chance to win it.
But, let's forget about high falootin', conceptual approaches here.
Let's get down to basics: Why in the world would you ever leave the
game-sealing to your defense when it is the one unit that does not
have the ball! Isn't that the idea of the game -- hold on to the
ball? Isn't that why coaches hate turnovers because you lose control of
the ball? So, why, late in the game, when you have the lead, would a
coach willingly give up the ball? That's exactly what happens
when turning to the Prevent Offense.
Back to Denver, now. With the chips down and his team in possession of
the ball deep in its own end, leading a Patriots team with two timeouts
left, all eyes fell on Shanahan Sunday. On the first play, it sure
looked like the Prevent Offense had infested the Shanahan playbook,
which immediately ran Mike Anderson
right up the middle for 3 yards to his 26. Across the field, Bill
Belichick countered by sitting tight. (By the way, I'm using every ounce
of my being to resist a cardinal sports writer's rule that mandates I
refer to this coaching by-play as a "chess match" or "game of cat and
mouse.") The modern-day Lombardi didn't budge and let the clock tick
Upstairs, in the CBS booth, Phil Simms said of Belichick's maneuver:
"Make Denver make the decision here. In other words, put pressure on
Mike Shanahan. What's he gonna do? Is he gonna run it and maybe waste a
down because it might not gain a lot of yards, or does he take the
chance and throw it and if it's incomplete it stops the clock. That's
what the Patriots are hoping for."
On his couch, your humble narrator wondered why in the name of Chuck
Knox would Shanahan go turtle when all it would inexorably lead to is
yet one more chance for Tom Brady to be the hero -- again?
Sure, enough, with 2:56 to go, Shanahan took the initiative. He got
aggressive. He put the onus back on Belichick by taking that Phil Simms
chance and throwing it. And guess what? An interception? An
incompletion? Nope, Jake Plummer found his
tight end Jeb Putzier, who made a play
for a first down. New England used its second timeout. Next play,
another Mike Anderson run to force the Patriots to use their final
timeout with 2:20 to go. Suddenly, the Broncos stood one first down away
from winning it. Shanahan didn't waste any time.
As for other coaches, how many would just run it one more time, take it
down to the two-minute warning and put the pressure on his quarterback
to make a play on third down? Not Shanahan. Very next snap (on second
down to capitalize on the element of surprise) Plummer hit the old
reliable Rod Smith and the man with the
most catches, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns of any undrafted
player in NFL history sealed the deal with a simple 8-yard gain. One
more run and two Plummer knees took it to the final gun, with Brady
standing harmlessly on the sideline.
Denver put the game in Jake Plummer's hands ... and he delivered.
Now, was that so tough? Anyone? Bueller?
OK, I know. It's not that easy -- there is a risk factor involved in
late-game aggressive play. For instance, in Pittsburgh Sunday, the
Jacksonville Jaguars took it one step too far. Setting up shop on the
Pittsburgh 32 with 26 ticks left in a tie ballgame, all the Jags needed
was one more first down for Josh Scobee
to end it with his toe. (One more aside: I loved Freddie Prinze Jr. in
Scobee Toe .) Instead, Byron Leftwich went
for it all and got picked off in the end zone. Not that it should
surprise anyone. In Week 3, Leftwich pulled the same trigger in overtime
against the Jets and it resulted in a game-ending 36-yard touchdown to Jimmy Smith. This time, the match-playing in Pittsburgh left the
Jaguars burned, but only temporarily. Moments later, Jacksonville became
the only team in the league with two overtime wins.
And then there's the case of the New York Giants, who had an opportunity
to act so aggressively late in Dallas they could have pushed the pedal
past the metal and through the floorboard. With 19 ticks left, Eli Manning connected with Jeremy Shockey
for a game-tying touchdown that also presented a chance for the Giants to win
it. We have a manic New York Giants fan on our staff here at NFL
Total Access named Jason Wormser, one of the more talented sports TV
producers in the business who immediately screamed for his Big Blue to
produce a two-point conversion.
Personally, I thought The Worm, as he's known affectionately in these
parts, had flipped his wig, even though, to be honest, he has very
little hair. Plus, The Worm is constantly screaming. Not only at the
Giants, but at every single one of the games on our screens like he's a
crotchety 80-year-old man on the porch. This guy is soft. That ref is a
joke. This coach is clueless, blah, blah, blah. Moaning at everything
like Duran Duran's hungry wolf. Now here he is telling Tom Coughlin, Mr.
If You're On Time Then You're Five Minutes Late, to let his hair down
and go for two and the win rather than play for overtime on the road.
That's pure lunacy.
Or is it?
As The Worm proffered on the spot, why not take one chance to win it
from the 2-yard line and head for home? Why not be aggressive and take
your shot from six-feet away rather than play it safe and risk losing
the game because a coin toss doesn't go your way? Sure enough, Dallas
won the subsequent coin toss and the Giants never got a sniff of the
ball in overtime. Worm was livid. His fantasy team name, by the way, is
On Monday, an intrepid member of the New York media broached the subject
with Coughlin, who replied with an incredulous: "Think about two? When
you can tie the game to go into overtime? The percentages are not in
Nevertheless, should the Giants have gone for two? Is the Worm actually
talking sense rather than nonsense?
While you ruminate, I'll toss some more Week 6 observations your way …
The Patriots are still in very fine shape: I tackle this subject
even though it may further antagonize readers for whom a fan named Cody
gave voice this past week when he emailed:
The one question I'd like to know is why the columns have revolved so
heavily around the Patriots lately? I want to know your opinion on other
teams more than I care about the Patriots.
While I appreciate Cody's notion, the Patriots are just too compelling a
story to ignore right now. From the state of the Dynasty to the stacked
schedule to Brady and Belichick to the injury bug ravaging the team's
chances for a three-peat -– no other team can bring that to the table.
And right now, the Patriots sit on the other side of their vicious first
six-game portion of the docket with the U.S.S. Kraft still quite afloat
at 3-3. They've finished half their road schedule with their entire
division schedule still to come AND they're tied for first place in a
division filled with more flawed and banged-up teams than their own. Go
ahead. Ask yourself which team in the AFC East will rise up and play to
a better record than New England will over the next 11 weeks. This team
is still making the playoffs, folks. And now they have their Bruschi
back. Once the bye week clears, several of his injured defensive
comrades should be nice and healed, ready to roll as well.
I love Vitt-ball on TV … and twins!: Before Marc Bulger foolishly used his throwing shoulder to blunt a blow from
a Colts defense suddenly on the attack, the Rams were bum rushing the
only undefeated team in the league, in their own house, on Monday
Night Football. I believe their 17-0 lead was no fluke. Get this --
eight of the Rams' first 11 plays were real, bona fide running plays.
You know, plays in which the Rams actually handed the ball off to a
runner and he ran it on the ground. Prior to leaving the game, Bulger
appeared nowhere near on pace for a 60-pass night. And look who interim
coach Joe Vitt discovered on the Rams bench? Why, it's a future Hall of
Famer named Marshall Faulk, who actually
touched the ball eight times on Monday night -- slightly less than
one-third of the touches Faulk had been given up to that point all
season. Now, I believe in the strict basic tenet of civility of not
kicking someone while they're down and I believe the scope of that basic
tenet includes someone suffering from endocarditis. But, I love Joe
Vitt! And, boy, he can sure work that gum on the sidelines.
Got your own observations on the NFL? Comments on pop culture? Share your thoughts with NFL Network's Rich Eisen.
I still need to be convinced by the Dallas Cowboys: I know this
is a touchy subject among some readers because each week the
GetRichQuick mailbox gets stuffed by those wondering why Bill Parcells
and crew don't get the respect America's Team deserves. To drive these
folks even more batty, I'm going to be completely vague in my logic. For
some reason, I just don't feel comfortable yet about calling them the
class of the NFC East. I know they blew the doors off the Eagles and
held the league's previously top-ranked offense in the Giants to just 13
points, but let me see them do that on the road. Let them go on the road
and wipe the loss to Oakland out of my memory banks. Same goes for the
near loss to the hapless 49ers in San Francisco. The time to show me and
other doubters is right now -- this upcoming weekend in Seattle, where
the Seahawks seem to finally be clicking, in part, because …
The Seahawks receivers are actually catching the football: And
they're doing it by committee. With leading receivers Bobby Engram and Darrell Jackson out
for the time being (and yet still on pace to top last year's totals), Matt Hasselbeck still hit six different receivers in the Sunday night
win. Many of you, however, will scoff, saying any passing offense can
look like a well-oiled machine against the Houston Texans these days.
But, the week before, Hasselbeck hit eight different receivers in
beating St. Louis. It's time to recognize: Seattle's receiving corps has
been stringing together a few solid outings in a row, led by the
resurgent Joe Jurevicius, whose four
receiving touchdowns in six games would have been good enough for second
most on the team all of last season. Even Bengals outcast Peter Warrick got into the act Sunday night. Plus, the corps includes
two guys named Jeremy who don't even come close to spelling their names
that way: receiver Jerheme Urban and
tight end Jerramy Stevens. Any way you
slice it, it's all adding up to one phat (which is how Jerheme's parents
spell it) Pro Bowl season in the making for Hasselbeck, who's hitting on
(an unheard of in Seattle) 66 percent of his passes. Once again, the NFC
West is Seattle's division to lose.
EMails and Random Thoughts
Well, it only took five weeks, but my weekly rant about the lack of
Hi-Definition Games on CBS through the prism of Ian Eagle and Solomon
Wilcots' weekly banishment to the broadcast dungeon of analog television
finally smoked an email out of you guys. A reader named D-J in Seattle
became the first to take part in the game that soon will capture the
nation: guessing which contest will be the I-Analog Game of the Week.
Last week, yours truly predicted it would be the Jets-Bills divisional
clash in Buffalo. Wrote D-J:
Good choice, but I am wagering the execs will want a quality image of
the Vinny train as it derails. Dilfer will lead the Browns to a late
victory on I-analogue.
So close, and, yet off the mark. Dilfer leading the Browns to nowhere in
Baltimore was, in fact, an analog broadcast, but not the most special
one in the whole wide world. No, the images of the Vinny train derailing
in Buffalo was, as correctly predicted in these parts, your I-Analog
Game of the Week. Thanks for playing D-J, we have some nice parting
gifts for you.
I even got an email from a reader who basically called me a hypocrite
for castigating the lack of Hi-Def NFL games when my very own channel,
NFL Network, is not in Hi-Def itself. For the most part, that is true --
NFL Network only offers its riveting Game of The Week on Wednesday and
Thursday nights in High Definition, where available. Other than that,
it's all analog. But here's the difference. While you may want to see
Lincoln Kennedy and yours truly in High Definition, I forward the
concept that you're just as fine and dandy watching that in analog while
for an NFL game, the difference is like night and day.
Once again, GetRichQuick@nfl.com
was a globular way station, with international e-missives coming in from
Australia, Sweden and this one from the land of pita:
Hi Rich: Do you think this has been one of the hardest years to
predict games and playoff contenders?
Well, Mr. Panayotopoulos, where to begin? In a word, yes. Or as you
would say: ναι.I have absolutely no idea who is going to play in Super
Bowl Extra Large in Detroit this year and probably won't have an
educated guess until right after conference championship weekend when we
know exactly who is going to play in Super Bowl XL.
Our weekly discussion of referees, usually a Kukar/Hochuli-centric
discussion, pulled another zebra into the vortex. A reader named Gregory
Dowell seems a touch fascinated with the folksy Jeff Triplette.
Hey Rich, It's not just you, Bernie Kukar does pronounce 'foul' as
'fall' but being from Kentucky and attending college in the Midwest, you
wouldn't believe all the 'trouble' people have in understanding some of
the things I say. Speaking of such, referee Jeff Triplette has quite the
twang and almost seems as though he's telling a story every time he
announces the penalty. Each ref brings a whole new dynamic to every game.
Hey Greg, if you think Jeff is a bit too wordy, be thankful you get him
only on Sundays. His day-to-day gig involves running risk management for
an energy company that owns nuclear power plants. Imagine what those
staff meetings must be like if Triplette gets a bit runny at the mouth.
Referee Jeff Triplette has a word (or two) with Bill Belichick.
Speaking of runny, thanks to all you out there who looked up the meaning
of the word "gleet" this week and reported back your thoughts. I'm
further down the road on the second season of HBO's brilliant drama
Deadwood and discovered this great nugget -- the long-haired pudgy
guy who plays Al Swearingen's sidekick Dan Dority is also the same
thespian who played the headset wearing, baseball-obsessed brother of
Cameron Diaz's in There's Something About Mary. In other words,
the actor W. Earl Brown and Brett Favre
have something in common.
And, finally, a special commemorative edition CD of the 2005 NFL
Regular Season Storyline Greatest Hits as
unveiled in this space last week goes out to none other than WK
"Corky" Aiken (not to be confused with Clay or the famed former Kansas
City Royals first baseman Willie Mays) who wrote in to say that I missed
Just in case you're keeping track, and even if you're not, the
unofficial song of the Colts this year according to single-genre radio
stations of a particular format is Toby Keith & Willie Nelson's "Beer
For My Horses." I am certain that it is as much a reference to beer as
it is the equine allusion which has elected it as such. Nonetheless,
once four out of five radios recommend something, it is usually so.
Stay cutting edge.
Well done, Corky. Good lookin' out. You stay cutting edge, too.
The best new sports commercial on TV could be the best sports
commercial of the entire year, just like it was last year. Peyton Manning's new MasterCard commercial is brilliant. It's the
same concept as the 2004 "Cut That Meat" spot, riffing on the old
time-worn comeback for hecklers: What if I came to your office and
bothered you? I don't want to ruin anything, but Manning in the
grocery store is pure comic genius. And, I must admit, Peyton has
great timing, but we already knew that from his work in the pocket.
This MasterCard spot is just as good as or even better than last
year's with Manning. One could say it's the Godfather II of
Speaking of, I was lucky to find myself at the fantastically brutal
Mora-Manfredo fight, otherwise known as The Contender rematch,
at Staples Center on Saturday night. Sitting ringside right next to
each other at one point: Sylvester Stallone, Jimmy Caan (only his good
friends call him "Jimmy") and Burt Young, who, I must admit, I thought
was dead. But sure enough, there they were in their entire splendor
all in a row, like a 1970s Mount Rushmore: Rocky, Sonny, Paulie. Of
course, I looked around for Talia Shire, the sister of both Sonny and
Paulie, paramour of Rocky, who thankfully treated Adrian quite well,
otherwise Sonny would have whipped him like he did the other Paulie,
who, to paraphrase Clemenza, we won't see no more. I know, it's
confusing but, to those who know, right on point.
Yo! Rocky's back.
And how about the news that broke this week that we are all in for a
Rocky 6? It is true: Just as he begins pre-production on a Rambo 4,
Stallone got the green light to start the sixth installment of Rocky
Balboa's hard-knock life, in which Rocky will indeed get back in the
ring. Stallone, of course, will play a restaurant-owning Rocky wracked
with grief over the death of Adrian. Apparently, the only way to honor
her memory and fight off loneliness is to put on the gloves and fight
an up-and-comer named Mason Dixon. I am not making this up. Of course,
the only question remaining is who will play Mason Dixon? Who can fill
the Sasquatch-like shoes of Carl Weathers, Mr. T, Dolph Lungdren and
Tommie Morrison? Internet tongues are wagging that it's none other
than light-heavyweight champion Antonio "Magic Man" Tarver. I say they
can do better. Why not another great boxer from the 70s? Why not Chuck
"The Bayonne Bleeder" Wepner? Or how about Ed "Too Tall" Jones for
The I-Analog Game of the Week: Okay, it's now officially
America's most popular game for ages three and up and, this week, it
really is a toss-up. For those who are first-time players, you must
first try and identify the three Hi-Def games CBS offers to determine
the massive pool of CBS analog games from which to choose the golden
one: the one broadcast by Ian Eagle and Solomon Wilcots. Try it. It's
fun for the whole family. During the Patriots-Broncos game, Jim Nantz
gave us all a little help, telling his "partner" Phil Simms that he
was looking forward to broadcasting Denver's Week 7 game at Giants
Stadium. So, that's one. You've got to figure the Chargers visiting
Philadelphia is another lock, leaving one more HD game and I say it's
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati. The 5-1 Bengals trying to take a
stranglehold of the AFC North against Ohio-native Ben Roethlisberger,
who is returning to start, is too good to pass up. Plus, CBS has to
give the good folks of the Queen City a break from Don Criqui for at
least one week. So, what chaff does that leave us? It could be Kansas
City at Miami, or even Buffalo at Oakland, but I'm going with
Baltimore at Chicago for this week's I-Analog Game of the Week. What
do you think? I am seriously thinking of giving away prizes to
winners. I've flipped my wig. And I don't have much hair, either.