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Be aggressive  
 
Rich Eisen  By Rich Eisen
Special to NFL.com

(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:

  1. I have no actual vote for the award.
  2. 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.

Now, then.

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.

The Broncos did NOT want to give Tom Brady a chance to win it.  
The Broncos did NOT want to give Tom Brady a chance to win it.    
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?

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 down.

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.

Denver put the game in Jake Plummer's hands ... and he delivered.  
Denver put the game in Jake Plummer's hands ... and he delivered.    
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.

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 "Bitter."

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 your favor."

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.

E-mail Eisen!
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?
--Constantine Panayotopoulos, Athens, Greece

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.

Referee Jeff Triplette has a word (or two) with Bill Belichick.  
Referee Jeff Triplette has a word (or two) with Bill Belichick.    
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.

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 a song:

How-do.

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 commercials.

  • 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.  
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 Mason Dixon!

  • 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.
 
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