Saturday, December 20, 2008

Okay by me...

With the Ravens dominating the Cowgirls tonight, two things happens:
(1) it means the Giants win their division (and we will always love the Giants, won't we?)
and (2) when Miami wins this weekend - and if the Jets do, too - the Patriots are all but eliminated from the playoffs.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

zone defense

I've been asked the question "what is a zone defense?" so allow me to enlighten you...
 
In simplest terms, a zone defense is using your players to cover areas of the fields (or "zones"), rather than covering each person one on one.
 
The primary advantage is that it allows you to take what might be a bunch of average players and have them help each other cover the field, rather than asking them to cover a player who might be above average. 
 
In the example above, we might have 6 players in a zone that covers the field, and that leaves 5 players to rush the quarterback.  OR, one of those players might drop into coverage and either help in a zone, or might pick up a particular player man to man to make the zone more effective.
 
The challenge is that in covering areas of the field, you might have a seam in the zone.  Think of a bunch of pieces of fabric covering the field.  Where that fabric comes together is a seam.  And if the offense manages to get a player to the back part of one area, and another player to the front part of an adjoining area, there is a seam because no one is covering that part.
 
Need a little more detail?  The idea is you utilize one player in the zone.  But, lets say that both of the receivers at the top of the picture run short curl ins, so they are in zone 3.  Maybe the running back goes out for a pass into zone 4.  So, now you've got two people in zone 3, and 1 in zone 4.  The guy in 3 has to cover two people, and the guy in 4 can't help him, because he's occupied.  The guy in 6 could come up, but now there's no help deep should someone suddenly turn upfield to that side.
 
So, the offense might gain an advantage.  Or they might send a receiver to zones 3&4, and then send the back into 4, while edging the players deeper toward 6.  Again, the idea for the offense is to try and get the advantage against this.
 
And frequently, an agressive offense can get some advantage and complete short passes into the zones, and keep the defense on the field, much as we saw on Sunday.  But as the field gets shorter and shorter, there is less area to defend, and it gets easier for the defense...
 
Of course, the defense can add a level of sophistication to this.  There are 6 players out there.  One of them may be switched to man-man coverage, and the other 5 will adjust to cover more of the field.  Or maybe one of them comes up to blitz the QB, and the others control the field.
 
Its all about trying to make the most of your personnel...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Intriguing

Our friend, Mr. G, reminds us that Zach Thomas left to go to a playoff contender, and ended up with the Cowboys, who are in the hunt, but haven't been playing well of late.  And JT wanted to be traded to a contender, and went to Washington, where they are more-or-less out of contention this year.
 
And JT was asked about that yesterday while he pinged and ponged.  He said he was cool with it, and was happy the Dolphins are doing well.

And there would be a collective cheer

The headline reads:
 
"Patriots could finish with an 11-5 record, and miss the playoffs, while two teams wtih 8-8 records make it."
 
As Nelson from the Simpsons might say "Ha! Ha!"

Monday, December 15, 2008

The officiating

Part way through the 2nd quarter, the Umpire found himself caught between two Dolphin defenders, and was knocked to the ground, and got a bloody nose, or a cut lip.  He was down for a few moments, and then was tended to by the Dolphins trainers.  He left the field, and did not return.  If I were to make a totally non-medical guess, I would think he might have required some stitches and he might have had a concussion.
 
In any event, the NFL has 7 officials work the game.  They are arranged around the field so they can see most of the action, line play, etc, and still manage to keep track of time as well as down/distance.  The rule says that they should use their best judgement to re-arrange when there is an injury.  And in this case, they had the back judge move to umpire.  He still had to perform some portion of the back judge duties, but he also shared some of them with the other officials.  But that often means that certain plays that might otherwise be called may not be, or they might be called incorrectly, because there's one fewer set of eyes watching the play.
 
As an example, take the play where Bess was running an out pattern, and a flag came in for pass interference.  The crowd cheered, only to learn it was on the offense.  The replay they showed made it pretty clear that Bess never touched the defender, and the defender knocked Bess down before the ball got there.
 
What went wrong?  Typically, the back judge would be the arbiter in such a situation.  The linesman may have seen seapration, but not how it happened, and ASSUMED it was offensive intereference.  And the back judge may have had a better angle and said it was actually okay, but the defense committed the infraction.  In this case, the back judge was closer to the line filling in for the umpire and never saw it.  So what the linesman thought they saw might not have been the case.
 
...and that's the kind of thing that sometimes happen when an official goes down to injury.

Things to come?

In the third series, I couldn't help but notice that the guy was snapping the ball to Pennington didn't have a ponytail.  A quick look at the line revealed that the guard to the right of him did.  Miami had moved Satele to right guard, insterted a Dallas guy at center, and moved Ndukwe to the bench.
 
I looked at Ndukwe parked there and thought he was being taken out for some reason, not because of injury, maybe poor peformance?
 
After the game, I watched it on Tivo, and realized that in fact the problem was that the line was playing pretty poorly as a unit on the first few series.  Yes, Pennington had a nice pass to get a TD, but that was in spite of the line play.    The coaches made a decision to shuffle the line to try and get more out of them.
 
They had talked about shuffling during the week apparently, and decided to try it out when what they had wasn't working.
 
It was slightly better, but on the whole, I don't think they were too impressed.  They put it back to the starting unit a couple of series later.

The wildcat

Miami ran the true Wildcat exactly 1 time on Sunday.  They ran a few other offensive schemes, which may or may not have been in the Wildcat playbook, but which did not feature anyone but Pennington at QB.
 
On this particular play, Ronnie faked the handoff, and started to make the run toward the left, where there was no tackle.  The object was to flow away from the motion of the play, and keep the defense off balance.  But, Ronnie quickly realized that he was going no where, and bounced it out to the right.  A couple of quick dips and moves (and at least one missed tackle) later, he was on the edge, and started upfield.
 
And here's where Pennington impressed me.  He feigned to block the outside guy to free Ronnie.  Now the block itself was less-than-spectacular, but it was enough to slow the pursuit, and allow Ronnie to pickup the first down.
 
That may very well have been the play of the day, and it really shows how Pennington will do what it takes to win.

Singletary's argument

Throuhout the afternoon, Sean Hill was snapping the ball as the clock wound down to 0.  A couple of times, I was watching as the clock went to all naughts, and I could actually count one-one-thousand before the snap came into his hands.  It went uncalled for the game.
 
On the last offensive play, Mike came out and argued that the clock had indeed run down, meaning that there should have been a delay of game on his team, thus backing him up 5 yards and giving them one more chance to win.
 
As you can see from Fox' illustrated replay, this was indeed the case.   But, the referee waved it off.
 
Two things: (a) what a peculiar argument for a coach to make - please penalize me! and (b) lest we forget on the 1st down (three plays before), Hill spiked the ball to stop the clock in spite of the fact there was nearly a minute and a half left.  That coaching choice and this unusual argument make me wonder if either Mike Martz shouldn't be calling the plays or if Singletary shouldn't be the head coach.

Porter a deux

So when it came to the end of the game, Porter rightfully was happy to be "the closer" and effectively end the game. 
 
The play was blown dead, and he knew it, so he ripped off his helmet and threw it down the field. 
 
But here's what's funny.  There was a confluence of things that made this go *almost* unnoticed by the officals. 
* There was the injury to the umpire (more on that later)
* Pennington sprinted on the field to retrieve the helmet before the officials noticed
* Porter was surrounded by teammates and ushered off the field quickly
* And Singletary was arguing with the refs about another issue (more on that later, too)
 
But, after a short time, the refs did notice and flag him for taking the helmet off.

Porter

In the game, Joey had limited success in the pass rush, well, at least until the last defensive play.
 
Veron Davis, the Niners TE, said afterward he was upset that he was on the bench for the last play because he had been handling Porter all day.
 
And well....that's not entirely true.  Part of the gameplan had Joey dropping into coverage early and often.  The idea was to confuse the offense, and create different challenges in blocking.  On this play, Porter drops back to cover, while Roth rushes from the other side.  Roth came up with a sack on this particular play.
 
Also, the Phins had Porter switch sides from time to time to create different matchups, and specifically to move away from the tight end.  And, at times, his job was to contain the run and/or to close down a rushing lane for the QB.  It was all by design, and meant that Joey did less pass rushing overall.  Until it was crunch time.
 
And...on many plays, when Joey did rush, he was double and sometimes triple-teamed to keep him out of the backfield.
 
So, that's the story of the day.  Vernon is just full of himself.

Too bad

Early in the day, Joey got a sack to take his total to a league-leading 17 1/2.  Then, along came DeMarcus Ware in the night game. He had 3 sacks to jump from second - with 16 - to the league lead with 19.
 
 

Why coaching matters

I watched the end of the championship game for whatever division it is in college football - the game between Northern Iowa and Richmond. 
 
One of the teams had scored with under a minute left to go up by a couple of points.   They squibbed it down the field, so it was fielded around the 40, and returned to the 45.  There are maybe 20 or so seconds left, and the team still holds one timeout.  Funny thing: they burned a timeout on the extra point to try and ice the kicker, odd as that seems.
 
They need maybe 30 yards to get into field goal range, and they might have two chances to get it and still get the timeout.
 
What do they do?  Call one of those whacky, pass-it-around the field things that just keeps the ball moving for the time remaining.  The first throw was about 8 yards up the field, and the laterals started.  One of them was a lateral that went far behind the line of scrimmage, like 10 yards behind and across the field. 
 
If the goal is to move the ball up the field, why would you throw it that far backward??
 
Naturally, they lost.  And I found it a curious decision on first down.  Maybe if it was incomplete on 1st you try it on second....

Dolphins 14, Niners 9

I wound up going to the game yesterday.  I had a great time tailgating with some friends, and generally hanging aound...I hadn't done the standard tailgate thing since sometime last year, so it was fun.

The crowd was subdued before the game, which I found a little odd, but people were looking forward to it.  And certainly they hoped for a win!
 
I decided to purchase a ticket in advance - rather than scalping it - and was surprised at how hard it was to find a reasonably priced ticket.  Everyone had them for a fair amount over face value, which would have indicated that this would be a big draw.  And yet, at the stadium, the parking was not all that full, and I'd say the stadium was maybe 75% of capacity.  Not quite as bad as some of the other "sellouts" but short of what you might expect given the market-driven ticket prices.
 
Miami went out to an early 7-0 lead, and never trailed or really looked back.  But, yet they were in danger of losing the game from about mid-third quarter on.  San Fransisky brought it to 14-9, and Miami had the ball with about 8 minutes left.  A couple of first downs, and maybe a field goal, and time would be short with the Niners down two scores (or a two point conversion anyway).  But, they went three and out, and San Fran was unstoppable. 
 
Miami was finally able to get their defense off the field, and then they actually put together a decent drive that ended with a field goal attempt.  Unfortunately, it doinked off the upright, leaving one more chance for the Niners.  And that only ended on a sack by J Peasy.
 
San Fran led in time of possession, plays, and yards.  The only thing that doomed them was those pesky little things.  Things like fielding a punt inside the 5.  Consistently running the play clock to 0 as they snapped the ball.  And spiking the ball with more than a minute to play, momentum, and in what might have been the winning drive.
 
But somehow Miami managed to pull out a win and stay tied for 1st in the AFC East...