Friday, January 20, 2012

4th and 1

Ah, the Playoffs... to quote Jimmy Mora, "Playoffs??"  It's been a season of heart-pounding excitement and mind-numbing boredom.  Seeing the Atlanta Falcons only scoring 2 points, I learned some things about this sport of 20th century gladiators.  There is nothing... NOTHING... more that spurs the adrenalin of a football fan more than the words, "Fourth and One"  Especially when they're close to the red zone.  It's like you can smell the carnage... a whole 6 points, if only the QB would just lean forward and pass the ball over that one yard.  So simple, right?  The emotion of the game takes over, heartbeats speed up to dangerous limits, and the coach has to make a decision, faced with the ridicule of the fans if he kicks a field goal (and gets 3) or goes for it and misses.  It's a chess move with sometimes the whole season on the line.  And so, Mike Smith, faced with a 4th and 1 in Overtime against New Orleans, goes for it, and falls short.  Saints Win.  However, in the recent Saints game with the Lions, they go on 4th down and make it every time.  So it's a toss up.

It's just like playing Price is Right.  There are rules for playing any game on there that will increase your odds of winning the most money.  But they don't.... they go with their emotions, risk it all, and more than likely, they wind up losing.  For example, on "Temptation," always take the prizes.  Or on "Cover Up," it's a very smart move to purposely pick the wrong number on the first row in order to get another chance down the line to win the car.  But these things never happen (it's also why I'd never get picked on the show.).  You go with your emotions, and you might win, or not.  But the smart thing is to go by what will work.

For instance, 1st Quarter, no score, you're on the 23 yard line, ready to score, but you get stopped, so it's 4th and 1.  Kick. The. Field. Goal.  Get points however you can, because those points could mean the difference in the game later on.  Now, if it's 4th quarter and you're down 21, that's a different story.  But Coach Smith went for it, and it didn't work....twice... that was 6 points, which might have made a difference had Drew Brees not gone touchdown crazy later.

When it comes to 4th and 1, the issue, ultimately, is trust.  Trust in the entire football team to execute the plays as practiced and to perform at the top level of their sport.  And it's the trust of the spectators that the coach will execute the plays necessary to provide a win, to justify the revenue that has been shelled out to spend three hours of one's life watching people run a ball up and down the field.  Without trust, all games that we call "sports" would be moot.  It wouldn't be worth watching.  In the situation of 4th and 1, there are 4 issues of trust that arise.

First, there's the trust that the offensive line can achieve the one yard needed to continue the drive.  Mike Smith went for it, mistakenly confident that the offensive line could force the defensive line of the Saints back three feet so that Matt Ryan could basically fall forward and get the 1st down.  It didn't work, and the issue here is that the O-Line needs improvement. The other option Ryan had was to either hand it off to Turner (which would have failed), or throw it to any of the Wide Recievers (who had been dropping the catches all day) or to Throw it to consistently reliable Tony Gonzales, who, for some reason, had only ONE catch that whole day.

Second, there's the trust that the defense can stop the other team's offense in case the 4th and 1 play doesn't work.  There shouldn't have been any trust in the case of the Falcons/Saints game because there are very few defenses (outside the 49ers, obviously) that can stop Drew Brees.  Or, Mike Smith should have realized that if they punted on 4th and 1, Brees would have scored easily anyway, so it was more justified to go for it and keep Brees on the sidelines.  Except that didn't happen.

Then there's the lack of trust in the Kicker.  Someone needs to get Morten Anderson and Vinateri together and hold a practice session for Field Goal Kickers, because every game I've watched this year has been woefully lacking in reliable FG kickers.  It could be that the ascendance of Soccer in the United States as a popular sport has drawn the FG kickers away from Football.  Or it could be that drafting other players, such as WR or QBs becomes more important than the FG kickers who score more points than any other person on the team (that was sarcasm). But most likely, I think that the lack of FG kickers is based upon the treatment that kickers get in any level of football.  Even Payton Manning referred to Adam Venateri as "that idiot kicker" when he missed one.  They face ridicule and name calling every time they miss a goal, and with the rise of social media, it just gets worse.  Reminds me of the U2 video for "Stuck in the Moment." Why would anyone want to be a kicker in Football and have to face those issues?  I wouldn't. Also, the kicker doesn't get to tackle someone, to lay out all their aggression and primal instincts into flattening another player on the ground.  It is a position that says, "We give up." They are a white flag, a surrender sign.  And sometimes coaches don't want to call the white flag onto the field.  Of course, there are exceptions, the 1999 St. Louis Rams, for instance.  Late in the season, the Field Goal kicker became injured, so "The Greatest Show On Turf" simply went for it every time, and with the offensive weapons they had (Faulk, Warner....etc.), they made it consistently.

Lastly, there's the unique position that every team playing the Chicago Bears have.  Namely, that, if they punt the ball, it will fall into the hands of Devin Hester, which I have talked about at length prior.  Hester would, on any given runback, achieve as many yards as the kick was, or potentially run into the end zone for a Touchdown.  It's much better, field position-wise, to go for a 4th and 1 and not make it than to kick it to Devin Hester and risk a Special Teams touchdown.

In the end, the Falcons lost the game with the Saints, and then in the playoffs with the Giants, and now let us hope that the team practices 4th and 1 for at least an hour each practice.  And give the ball to Gonzales, for Pete's sake.  He just got a one year, $7 million dollar extension. Make it worth your money.  And reevaluate your trust in your team.  The real trust, not that based on emotion and gambling, but that based on the logic and reason of knowing the strengths of the team and using them.  And if that's not enough, go get the right players during the off season (which means the Offensive Line) and we'll try it again next year.  Punt, and let's go at it again.   

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