Monday, February 02, 2009

Fourth and a Hair

In real life, I'm not aggressive. In fact, I'm not even passive-aggressive. I'm more anti-aggressive. But if I were a football coach...

I was rooting for the Arizona Cardinals yesterday, though I can't say they deserved to win. The last ten minutes of the game were really something, but both teams looked pretty awful to me throughout. Aside from some usual officiating mess, and a bit of dirty play, the thing that stood out most to me was the Steelers' initial drive. I don't mean to question coach Mike Tomlin, who seems like a pretty tough guy -- at least, tougher than me by something like 10 to the twenty-sixth power -- but how in the world did he decide to kick a field goal in that situation? The Steelers had just driven down the field with ease, and on third down they missed getting into the end zone by about a centimeter. So, it's fourth down. Pittsburgh's defense was the best in the league by just about every metric this year. If the offense had gone for it and failed, that defense would have had Arizona pinned on that one-centimeter line. I know it's the big game, and I know that many people subscribe to the "put the easier points on the board early" theory (at least one person I was watching with is on that subscription list). And if the ball had been on the five- or six-yard line, I might agree. But I thought it was completely gutless (and wrong-headed), and it put me even more strongly on Arizona's side, which led, of course, to feeling like I'd been punched in the stomach when Pitt rallied late to win it.

Bring on the baseball season.


Anonymous Dread Pirate Wiseman said...

I wouldn't go so far as to call Tomlin gutless. If you look at Pittsburgh's other red zone attempts in the game, they weren't exactly crushing Arizona. On the one rushing score in the red zone (2nd quarter), Russell could have easily been stopped but he got through the line on his second effort. Pittsburgh only averaged 2.2 yards per carry throughout the game as well. Remember that they don't really have a Jerome Bettis on this team.

All that said, there was no way for Tomlin to know that his team would be that anemic rushing the ball against a defense that ranked 28th overall in red-zone defense (although they averaged 2.2 yards/carry on the first drive as well) or that they would have nine plays with the ball in the five and only come away with 6 points. Conventional wisdom says that if your top ranked defense has a team pinned on the one foot line, you have a pretty good shot to make good things happen. That is, of course, unless Arizona starts hot and Fitzgerald (who is faster than anyone on your defense by a mile) gets loose.

Also consider that your team just dismantled the Arizona defense to stall at the one. If I am Tomlin, I figure that I have no problem putting up 21+ points and that my D can hold them under 21. The first drive of the game, get points and make the other team come from behind. If the Steelers had already been up by 7, I think Tomlin rolls the dice but in this case, get the points. Let your team have the satisfaction of putting up the first score and go from there.

Of course, you could figure that Tomlin had cash on Reed scoring the first points in the game which is why he told Roethlesberger to take a dive.

12:43 PM  
Blogger JMW said...

I do concede your point about no one like Bettis. (Though Roethlisberger is called Big Ben for a reason -- let him plow in there!) And yes, "gutless" is strong. But to follow on your own analysis, I would understand Tomlin's thinking further along in the game, after his team looked so horrible in the red zone for so long (and they did). But early on, I figured he would be more confident and brash, not cowed by those red-zone debacles yet. Like I said -- and as you know as well as anyone -- it's kind of hilarious for me to making smash-mouth arguments, but I always figure: It's football. It's early in the game. Make a statement. If you fail to make the statement, get pissed at yourselves and use that. The field goal just looked really weak to me in that spot (one-inch line). Anyway, it's obviously like arguing about angels on the head of a pin, since the Steelers won the game anyway. Thanks for playing along.

1:42 PM  
Blogger Jamal said...

I love angels on the head of a pin, so I'll play along. I think it was the harder call to kick the field goal. I'm sure the players wanted to go for it and all the testosterone in that moment demanded it, but that moment required thinking and it was the right move for THIS game. It's the Super Bowl. Nerves are much higher and that's why the team that wins the toss usually does not take the ball on offense first. Your first drive and you put any points on the board is considered a big success in THIS game. So I think mentally, that was a plus for them to drive and score. And the awesome defense cuts both ways too. Pitt won many games by small margins and multiple field goals won them quite a few. So maybe he was thinking "i have such a great defense that three is like seven." And here's a little twist. That three points was huge in the end, assuming Arizona stopped them on Fourth. Look at the final score. Had they gone for it and not gotten the three points, Arizona would have only needed a field goal at the end. That would have changed the dynamics of that last drive greatly. Warner would not be looking to hold onto the ball for 30 seconds on those last two throws because he wouldn't have needed an end zone pass.

5:47 PM  

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