For years, the Pacific side of the United States has been associated with the West Coast offense. Sunday, the NFC title game will showcase the West Coast defense.
While the New England at Denver AFC title contest is a meeting of high-scoring offenses, the NFC event pairs power defenses. Seattle allowed a league-low 14.4 points per game during the season, then in its playoff debut held high-scoring New Orleans to 15. San Francisco was third-best against points during the regular season, at 17 points per game allowed, and just held Carolina to 10 points on its own field, shutting out the Panthers in the second half.
The breakthrough idea of the West Coast offense was throwing passes that are designed to be short. Before Bill Walsh, nearly all passing routes were drawn up with long gains as the goal. Walsh realized that short passes could be like extended handoffs. Today at the prep, college and professional levels, football playbooks contain far more short passing routes than long ones.
What’s the breakthrough idea of the West Coast defense? Back to basics. During this young century, “unorthodox” has been the favorite word of defensive coordinators. Overload zone blitzes, standing fronts, split coverages, the 46, the Times Square Defense (first used by the Jets against the Patriots in the 2007 playoffs — all defenders moving pre-snap, like tourists milling around Times Square): confusing the opposition’s quarterback has been the goal. The Packers and Ravens have won recent Super Bowls with weird alignments including 2-4-5 looks and defensive linemen dropping into coverage.
This is not the theory of the West Coast defense. The Seahawks and 49ers play conventional fronts and rarely blitz. There’s no mystery about where Seattle or San Francisco defenders are going to be. Offenses know exactly where they’re going to be; the problem is outperforming them. Seattle’s maddeningly effective corners are not trying to fool quarterbacks, rather, they want to stay glued to receivers. Both teams’ front fours usually are coming straight ahead — maybe a twist, but little funky stuff. Linebackers for both teams crash on rushes and drop on passes, like linebackers of a generation ago.
The West Coast defense is refreshingly simple. Seattle and San Francisco use old-fashioned tactics and outperform offenses. Plus, nobody on either defense takes a down off, which is more important than it might seem. Nobody quits on a play, even when the ball is going the other way — also, important. And of course Seattle and San Francisco have good players. But most NFL defenses have good players; the Seahawks and 49ers have good players who reach their potential, and they’re doing it the old-fashioned way.
Who would have thought the West Coast, known for fads, high-tech, casual dress, laid-back evenings and now for legal marijuana, would be shining the light on traditional football? The West Coast’s Chargers can play some defense, too — three of Denver’s four lowest-scoring games this season were versus San Diego.
The weekend’s title games will offer a clash of conventional power defense in the NFC and trendy no-huddle offenses in the NFL. This guarantees a Super Bowl pitting offense versus defense, and that sounds like fun. Said Super Bowl will be outdoors in New Jersey in February. For an outdoor bad-weather game, would you rather have the best offense or the best defense?
In other football news, TMQ readers know my hobby horse is coaches who punt on fourth-and-short when trailing or inside opposition territory. Sometimes such decisions rise to the level of Preposterous Punts.
Saturday at New England, Chuck Pagano ordered a punt for which “preposterous” is too mild a word. Colts trailing 43-22 with 10:16 remaining, they faced fourth-and-1 — and in trotted the punting unit. Who cares if the spot was the Colts’ 29? Trailing by three touchdowns in the fourth quarter of a playoff game, it’s insane to punt on fourth-and-1. Norv Turner once had his Chargers, down by two scores with 9 minutes remaining in a playoff game, punt on the opposition 36.
TMQ thought that the was the worst play in all of football history — until Saturday.
Clearly Pagano quit on the game, and was more concerned with holding the hosts under 50 points — Indianapolis lost 59-24 the last time it visited New England — than going all-out to win. But what to call a fourth-and-1 punt when trailing by 21 points in the fourth quarter of a playoff? Unconditional surrender.
Stats of the Divisional Round No. 1: Seattle, which hosts the NFC title game, is 16-1 at home with Russell Wilson.
Stats of the Divisional Round No. 2: Tom Brady became the first player to throw for 6,000 yards in the postseason.
Stats of the Divisional Round No. 3: San Francisco has followed a 1-3 streak with a 13-2 streak.
Stats of the Divisional Round No. 4: From the point at which Carolina took a 10-6 lead, San Francisco possession results: touchdown, touchdown, field goal, turnover on downs in the final seconds.
Stats of the Divisional Round No. 5: In two trips to Seattle over six weeks, the Saints fell behind by a combined 33-0.
Stats of the Divisional Round No. 6: New Orleans is 1-6 in road playoff games.
Stats of the Divisional Round No. 7: With the Saints, Drew Brees is 56-27 indoors and 27-24 outdoors.
Stats of the Divisional Round No. 8: Indianapolis turned the ball over 14 times in 16 regular season games, and eight times in two postseason contests.
Stats of the Divisional Round No. 9: Denver averaged 24 points against San Diego and 40 points against all other teams.
Stats of the Divisional Round No. 10: Peyton Manning won a playoff game for the first time in four years.
Sweet Play of the Divisional Round: Even considering bad weather, was that really the New England Patriots with 28 called passing plays and 45 called rushes? Flying Elvii leading 29-22 early in the fourth quarter, the hosts took possession at their 27 and lined up in a power set with a single wide receiver. By that point, expecting run, the Colts had eight in the box, with a lone safety. Left guard Logan Mankins trapped right and made a good block, backup tight end Michael Hoomanawanui got a pancake at the point of attack. Undrafted tailback LeGarrette Blount went through the line untouched; the lone safety, LaRon Landry, whiffed on a tackle attempt and there was no one left between Blount and the end zone.
In last season’s AFC title contest, their most recent postseason game before this one, the Patriots had 29 catches or rushes by Wes Welker, Danny Woodhead, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd and Deion Branch — none of whom were still with the team Saturday. It doesn’t seem to matter who lines up at receiver and runner for New England, because the Patriots have the NFL’s most stable situation at quarterback and offensive line.
Sour Plays of the Divisional Round: San Francisco leading 6-0 in the first half, the Panthers reached third-and-goal on the Niners 1. Carolina came out in a power set and ran straight ahead: stuffed. Then on fourth-and-goal, came out in a power set and ran straight ahead: stuffed. No misdirection either time. TMQ’s Law of Short Yardage holds — do a little dance if you want to gain that yard. Now leading 7-6, the Cats again faced third-and-goal on the Niners 1, and this time did employ misdirection: shifting, then pulling a guard. The runner crashed into his own pulling guard, and the home team settled for a field goal. Eight first-half Carolina snaps in goal-to-go situations resulted yielded three points. Sour.
Sweet ‘N’ Sour Kickoffs: Scoring to pull within 24-14 with six minutes remaining, San Diego onside kicked. Nick Novak launched a terrific onside, very high in the air; the Denver man beneath the ball didn’t have the presence of mind to signal fair-catch. Sweet for the Bolts. Now it’s Denver 24-17 and San Diego is kicking off again with four minutes remaining. Sure, lightning isn’t likely to strike twice, but the league’s No. 1 offense isn’t likely to punt, either. San Diego did not onside kick a second time and never touched the ball again; the clock struck midnight on the Chargers’ improbable late-season run.
The real story? Florida State won the final BCS title. In the run-up or the postgame, did you see any media coverage about the Seminoles’ 58 percent football graduation rate? The team’s 2007 cheating scandal that led to probation? The program’s recent history of classifying many players as learning-disabled, waiving most classroom requirements? Any mention that though Florida State had $48 million in football revenue in the last school year, it still charges every undergraduate $245 annually to subsidize NCAA sports?
At Florida State, 65 percent overall of African-American students graduate, but only 50 percent of African-American football players do. Why was the sports media silent on these Florida State issues? Seminoles boosters and alums who are proud of the crystal trophy should feel embarrassed by the football program’s subsidies and poor classroom performance. Of the 11 Seminoles selected in last year’s NFL draft, eight graduated.
Good for them! But what about the much larger number of Florida State football players who will never take a snap in the NFL, and never walk to “Pomp and Circumstance?” They are used up and thrown away. Florida State and its coaches exploit those players; the sports media is complicit.
Unified Field Theory of Creep: Reader Bill Ferguson of Utica, N.Y., reported last week, “I went my local Hannafords in the midst of the polar vortex. Saranac Brewery had its collection of spring beers for sale. Nothing makes me think spring like 7 degrees and drifting snow.”
TMQ Nice to Belichick; Loud Klaxons Sound in Bristol: Bill Belichick suggested recently that PAT kicks should be eliminated. At the risk of saying something nice about Belichick, he’s got a point. He noted that back in the day, there was drama to whether the PAT kick would succeed. Now there’s none. This season, more than 99 percent were successful: 1,256 of 1,261 through the uprights. It might well be that injuries are more common on PAT kicks than misses, at least at the professional level; the missed PAT kick does remain a standby of prep football.
Should an NFL touchdown simply be seven points? Tuesday Morning Quarterback would rather the PAT kick be eliminated, and replaced with a two-point try from the 2-yard line. The case for this change is the same as the case was for bringing the two-point play into the NFL, which happened in 1994 — the only effect would be to make football more exciting.
The deuce try is one of football’s most interesting moments. But the deuce is rare. This year, NFL coaches went for two a mere 58 times. If every touchdown led to a run-or-pass try from the 2-yard line — essentially, to a fourth-and-goal from the 2 — this season that would have seen 1,319 deuce tries, an average of five a game. That’s a lot more excitement, and the NFL is, at heart, an entertainment enterprise.
In 2013, 50 percent of deuce tries succeeded; for the past decade, that’s been the approximate average. Is the deuce try somehow different from a regular fourth-and-goal from the 2? Probably not: Over the last decade, ESPN’s research department reports, 51 percent of NFL plays on fourth-and-goal from the 2 have resulted in touchdowns.
So suppose the NFL were to eliminate the PAT kick and allow only deuce tries. If roughly half succeed, scoring wouldn’t change — but a lot of excitement would be added, both with lots of deuce tries and because fourth quarter lead-margin dynamics would become harder to predict. Anything that adds interest to the game is a plus.
If purists must cling to the singleton PAT kick, then move the spot back. Teams could choose between spotting the ball at the 35 for a one-point PAT kick of about 52 yards — that’s where it would have to be to prevent the kick from being automatic, because NFL kickers now hit nearly all attempts from the 40 to the 49 — or spotting the ball at the 2 for a two-point run-or-pass try. This rule could only make football more exciting!
Tuesday Morning Quarterback proposes a grand compromise in which the kickoff is eliminated — after a score, the opponent takes possession on its 25 — in return for changing the point-after rule. In 2011, the kickoff spot was advanced by five yards in order to increase touchbacks; concussions on kickoff plays declined as a result. Eliminating the kickoff entirely would further reduce concussions, especially concussions suffered by the relatively low-paid unknowns who populate special teams. Changing the point-after would add back the amount of excitement that eliminating the kickoff took out. Football would remain just as much fun to watch, while kickoffs, the most concussion-prone play, would be done away with. If all-deuce-no-kickoffs worked in the NFL, college and high school would follow, potentially avoiding thousands of concussions each season.
This item is a trailer for TMQ’s Jan. 28 column — the week between the title games and that Super Bowl thing — whose subject will be how to reform football.
How Did Denver Do It? In the Bolts’ surprise December victory at Denver, San Diego threw Peyton Manning off-balance by being unorthodox. The Chargers had two defenders moving around at random pre-snap; no matter how much arm-flapping Manning did, he never figured out where those defenders would be because, moving randomly, they didn’t know either. Sunday in the divisional round, San Diego switched from unorthodox to a conventional West Coast defense. The box-score results were about the same — 20 points allowed to Denver in December, 24 points allowed in January. But the hosts built a quick 14-0 lead, then spent the contest hanging on. Maybe San Diego figured Denver had prepared for random movement, and conventional would come as a surprise.
TMQ notes hidden plays — ones that don’t make highlight reels, but stop or sustain drives. A couple snaps before the Broncs’ first touchdown, Manning threw the ball directly to San Diego corner Shareece Wright, who dropped it.
The Bolts started slow — 1 yard passing in the first half — which perhaps made Denver overconfident. In the second half, San Diego gained 193 yards passing, and had the home crowd sweating. Philip Rivers has been eerily efficient all season, and this contest was no exception — he finished with a 115.8 passer rating despite the rocky start and poor first-half blocking. A couple weeks ago, San Diego struggled to score against the Kansas City junior varsity; in the fourth quarter at Denver, the Bolts offense looked like the Broncos offense. With corner Chris Harris out for the title game, the rest of the Broncos defense must turn it up.
Denver’s offense played well enough to win, but hardly was the juggernaut of the record-setting regular season. Last season in the playoffs against Baltimore, Manning seemed to tense up and throw ultra-short: his average per attempt dropped from a regular-season number of 7.9 yards to 6.3 yards. Versus San Diego, this happened again: Manning’s ultra-short throws resulted in an average gain per pass of only 6.4 yards, versus an 8.3-yard average during the regular season. Denver’ big gainer of the day was a 21-yard catch. Maybe the coaching staff just wanted to get the Bolts out of the way and prepare for the title game. But it’s going to take more voltage on offense to defeat New England.
Weasel Coach Watch No. 1: Last week Mike Munchak was fired as head coach of the Flaming Thumbtacks, after being offered the chance to scapegoat his assistants by firing them. Munchak refused, and was shown the door. Reader Jonathan Flanders of San Antonio writes, “This is the opposite of a weasel coach — perhaps, a bald eagle coach.”
Wade Phillips, recently shown the door by the Texans — his defense only finished seventh overall in 2013, get rid of the bum! — was fired by the Bills as head coach in 2000, after refusing to scapegoat assistants by firing them. Buffalo had been 29-21 with playoff appearances in its first two years under Phillips; the front office and fan base were furious because in his next season, the team “missed the playoffs for only the third time in 13 years.” The Bills have not made playoffs since! Perhaps the football gods cursed Buffalo for firing a head coach who was a winner and who had the backs of his staff. If so, the next few years for the Houston Texans may be unpleasant.
The Bills’ playoff drought is a league-worst 14 years, beginning with the dismissal of bald-eagle Phillips. I grew up in Buffalo, and it’s been excruciating for all true sons and daughters of the city to watch the once-proud franchise bungle away season after season — blown draft picks, bad player-management decisions, a succession of head coaches who appear to be taking naps on the sideline. The latest in a long line of indignities will be the NFC title game — stars Marshawn Lynch and Donte Whitner both sent packing by the Bills.
Besides the firing of a bald eagle, there’s something else that happened in the football artificial universe 14 years ago — TMQ began. One of my frustrations is that in the entire 14 years I’ve cranked out this column, I have never gotten to tout my hometown team, because the Bills consistently have been bad. What if the reason the Bills have missed the postseason for 14 years is not the Phillips Curse but the TMQ Curse? I’m signed to do this column through the end of the coming season, so the Bills’ condition may not improve.
The Road to the Swamps: The Super Bowl will be played in New Jersey, but all the talk will be of New York. So TMQ will try to keep the focus on New Jersey.
I asked readers for quirky facts about the Garden State. Fred Bartlett of Hamilton, N.J., wrote, “Bridges and tunnels on New Jersey borders only have tolls one way. Getting in is always free, but you must pay to leave.” Tim Lowell of Dickinson, Texas points out, “Jersey is known for the unusual jug-handle traffic pattern. Let’s call this the Jug Handle Bowl.” Brian McGuire of Ellicott City, Md., writes, “New Jersey is one of two states (Oregon) where it is illegal to pump your own gas.” Theo Vander Wilt of Mount Holly, N.J., reports, “The dirt MLB uses to rub down balls before games comes from the Rancocas Creek in New Jersey.”
New Jersey has been on the nation’s front pages for a week, and as usual, for all the wrong reasons. Gov. Chris Christie, who not long ago was mocking those who said lane closures had been used to create traffic jams in a city whose mayor didn’t support him, last week admitted this was true but claimed he was never told the traffic jams occurred. Of course he doesn’t know what happens to average people on roads — he takes personal trips in state-owned helicopters, at public expense. At least one Jersey pol apparently fears criminal charges may result from the lane-closure mess. Only in New Jersey!
Newspaper readers surely are weary of the ruckus over highway cones, though the real issue is the credibility of a potential presidential candidate.
The scandal needs a name, and Lane-Gate is too obvious. Readers submitted suggestions via Twitter. Mark Spence of Oklahoma City suggested Chris-Crossed. Alex Heard of Santa Fe has a winner in A Bridge Too Fargled. Keith Jones of Chattanooga suggested an anti-Christie TV ad would have Arnold Schwarzenegger in “True Lies” screaming, “The bridge is out!” TMQ suggests Christie be nicknamed Governor Abutment.
The Bridge Too Fargled scandal suggests Governor Abutment is the all-too-familiar sort of politician who wants credit when things go well and blames others when things go poorly. Matthew Cooper writes in Newsweek — which exists again! — “What’s not gotten attention is the role traffic plays in New Jersey’s psyche and why that makes this such a blow to Christie. Auto congestion is found all over the country, but in the Garden State, traffic holds a special place. New Jersey is the nation’s most densely populated state, which means cars are more densely populated. Bruce Springsteen waxed poetic about ‘hemi-powered drones scream down the boulevard.’ In most cases the screaming is coming from frustrated drivers.”
For the governor’s office in New Jersey to go out of its way to create traffic gridlock would be as if the governor’s office in Kansas went out of its way to stop combines during harvest season. The scandal suggests Governor Abutment either has no idea what’s happening in his own office, or is a spiteful bully. Which is worse? As the Boss sings, “The highway’s jammed with broken heroes.”
Weasel Coach Watch No. 2: Louisville alums and boosters, how can you feel good about Bobby Petrino getting the football coaching job? People deserve second chances, but Petrino has been a weasel more than once. In 2006, he signed a 10-year contract with Louisville, then walked out on his promises one year later when money was waved by the Atlanta Falcons. There he couldn’t keep his word even for one season, walking out on the Falcons during his first year when money was waved by the University of Arkansas. There he cheated on his wife and put his mistress on the school payroll.
The University of Louisville should at least pretend that it cares about character. And should remember TMQ’s Law of Weasel Coaches: When you hire a coach who only cares about himself, you get a coach who only cares about himself.
How Did San Francisco Do It? The Cats seemed to be in good shape when, leading 10-6, they stopped Frank Gore at the goal line with time almost expired in the first half, then flushed Colin Kaepernick from the pocket on the next snap. Kaepernick looked like he’d throw the ball away, and the Niners would settle for a field goal, but instead perfectly rifled a touchdown throw to Vernon Davis as he was going out-of-bounds. The side judge ruled only one foot in, but several Niners immediately pointed out the divot on the field that showed Davis did drag his foot. Replay awarded the touchdown, and it was all downhill from there for the home team.
Carolina’s normally stout defense faltered, not forcing a punt in the second half. San Francisco had the ball just thrice after intermission, but mounted two long scoring drives and a clock-killing drive that concluded with an obnoxious fake punt with 23 seconds remaining. Carolina had the ball four times after intermission, resulting in two punts, an interception and the clock running out on the Panthers’ season. San Francisco leading 13-10, Carolina reached first-and-10 on the Niners’ 29. The Cats went incompletion, sack, sack, punt. Until a desperation heave-ho in the final seconds, San Francisco held Carolina to 71 offensive yards in the second half.
The Niners offense was plodding but held the ball for three long scoring drives. The word is out on Vernon Post — the play, which resulted in a touchdown at Green Bay, was double-covered by Carolina and presumably will be by Seattle. Fabulous defense can put a plodding offense into position for the coup de grâce. Squared Sevens leading 20-10 and facing third-and-1, a pre-snap shift resulted in double tight ends left; at the snap, right guard Alex Boone pulled left. The overload crushed the Panthers defense on that side; Gore’s 39 yard run was the back-breaker for the hosts. Absent this down, Carolina held Gore to 45 yards on 16 carries. Seattle will notice that and try to take away Gore, forcing Kaepernick to throw at the Seahawks’ well-regarded corners.
Marshawn Lynch Has a Touchdown Dance Consultant; He Needs a Media Consultant: One reason Bill Belichick has such a mixed reputation is that he snarls at the sports media. Geoff Foster of the Wall Street Journal reports Belichick has smiled in public exactly seven times this season.
NFL coaches’ contracts require them to address the press corps, else Belichick likely would never step behind a microphone. He appears to think sports reporters are idiots and the requirement to explain himself to such lower life forms is an awful burden. He’s not the only one. Last week, Marshawn Lynch was fined for refusing to speak to the media, which NFL contracts also require players to do.
Star athletes and coaches tend to perceive the media as press agents. When reporters ask questions with an edge instead, they get upset. That’s not how you should speak to royalty!
There’s another level to why NFL stars and coaches snarl at the media — they want to believe what they’re doing is incredibly serious and important, a life-or-death matter. Actually, what they’re doing is providing entertainment, and the sports media is part of the act. Often it’s terrific entertainment — but entertainment is all that it is. When reporters are snarky to NFL stars and coaches, it’s a subconscious reminder that whether the Patriots win or Lynch scores a touchdown has absolutely no lasting impact on American life.
Book News: “The King of Sports” is selling well — say, have I mentioned “The King of Sports?” But I need to do a new book proposal in order to have my next volume out in 2016. Proposed titles under consideration:
“Selfish Reasons to Become a Better Person”
“Halve Your Money in Thirty Days!”
“The Perfect Gift for Anyone on Your List”
Actually I am serious about the first title: a book on that subject can be written. The third title would be timed for the holidays.
Michael Irvin, philosopher:
Hopefully we won’t have any games where we was cold in like last week
— Michael Irvin (@michaelirvin88) January 11, 2014
How Did New England Do It? The Colts hadn’t won at New England since 2006. Andrew Luck’s first visit, in 2012, was a debacle. TMQ’s AFC preview said, “Colts at Patriots was the defining game of this team’s 2012 season. Indianapolis gained 448 yards on offense — and lost by 35 points.” This time the Colts would gain 386 yards, and lose by 21 points.
On the initial Indianapolis possession, the Colts faced third-and-2; the Flying Elvii had press corners across from every receiver. Luck threw a short stop, which can’t work against a press corner, rather than audible to a go or an out. Interception returned to the Colts’ 2. Luck is much-praised, including in this column. But he’s also thrown eight interceptions in three postseason contests, and is fortunate to be 1-2. There but by the grace of being the No. 1 pick goes Andy Dalton.
The performance of the New England offensive line was worth the price of admission. Most of the year using quick-snap pass-wacky tactics, the Pats not only favored the rush but controlled the clock, with time of possession at 35 minutes. In the third quarter, New England scored from the Indianapolis 3 on a power rush, then got a deuce on a power rush — consecutive power rushes at the goal line haven’t happened much under Bill Belichick. New England’s sudden proficiency in power rushing means for the AFC title contest, Denver coaches must prepare to face either fast-snap passing or clock-control rushing. New England’s tactics and line play not only defeated the Colts, but also increased the team’s chances of winning the title.
At Least There Are No Brigadier Governors: Currently there is a mini-scandal involving the lieutenant governor of Arkansas, as well as lingering controversy caused by the lieutenant governor of Florida. In recent years, lieutenant governors abusing their positions have generated numerous scandals. Why do lieutenant governors even exist? The position is an anachronism that should be abolished.
Forty-five states have lieutenant governors. In some, these officials preside over statehouse sessions; in others, they merely hang around in case the governor resigns or dies. The notion that a state needs a governor-in-waiting dates to the period when the nation had no standing army; then, state militias required a civilian commander at all times. Today, governors have no meaningful input into what’s now the National Guard; see this 1990 Supreme Court decision and this 2007 act of Congress. (When governors boast of being “commander in chief of the state National Guard,” this is pure political bloviation.) States do not conduct foreign policy, have no defense needs, and in most, much of the time the legislature is not in session. So why must a lieutenant governor be standing by? In modern politics, the position is just featherbedding.
This is not the view of the National Lieutenant Governors Association, which declares, “The nation’s lieutenant governors directly impact states in profound ways.” Profound! The very notion that an organization with just 45 members requires a national headquarters with an executive director and four annual national meetings seems like a Monty Python sketch. Note that the next two meetings are in expensive hotels — the Westin City Center in Washington D.C. and the magnificent Alyeska Resort. Lieutenant governors may have nothing to do, but they live well — and sell corporate advertising.
The Football Gods Chortled: Seattle leading 16-0 late in the third quarter, punter Jon Ryan dropped the snap. It might have been a huge loss for the Seahawks and a momentum swing for New Orleans. Except — the Saints had called a return, so no one rushed the punter. Ryan got the kick away.
Hosting San Diego, the Broncos rarely huddled, starting their cadence with plenty of time on the play clock, then fussing and calling out checks till the play clock was nearly exhausted. Though Denver enjoyed a significant edge in time of possession, the Broncos snapped just 70 times — relatively low considering the time of possession difference. Peyton Manning employed the hard count so often that five times he drew the Chargers offside. And twice, got his own team to jump.
Today’s Teenagers Carry Technology the Cold War CIA Would Have Envied: The accompanying photo shows an IBM computer being loaded into an aircraft in 1956. The computer shown had 5 megs of memory. The latest iPhone has 13,000 times as much.
A Player Who Can’t Read Could Pass the NCAA Enrollment Requirement Only If Documents Were Faked: TMQ’s big complaint about football factories is not that players aren’t paid, it’s that only 55 percent of them graduate. A bachelor’s degree is more valuable (adds about $1 million to lifetime earnings) than any amount most big universities could pay the typical college player. I focus on graduation rates because they are a hard number — a person either graduates or doesn’t — and a number that’s attainable. But what if college football and men’s basketball players have no hope of graduation because they can barely read? This disturbing CNN story documents athletes with very low reading skills being used up and thrown away by big universities.
If We Actually Do Know 1 Percent, That’s Awesome: The astronomer Halton Arp died on Dec. 28 at age 86. He devoted much of his professional life to trying to prove there is a basic flaw in the understanding of redshift — light from an object moving away from an observer is redshifted, light from an object moving toward the observer is blueshifted. The flaw, he thought, creates an illusion that the galaxies are rushing outward from a Big Bang point when actually the universe is static, as the ancients believed.
Arp’s beliefs about cosmic light were eccentric, and probably wrong. But his career is a reminder that most breakthroughs are made by those who follow their muse regardless of what conventional wisdom says. Einstein initially was seen as an eccentric, his views clashing with received wisdom of his period. Many notions today confidently asserted in the science departments of major universities are sure to be discredited someday. Researchers like Arp, who refuse to go with the flow, are essential to progress.
Though Arp’s specific contentions do not appear to stand much chance of being proven, his general point — refusal to endorse Big Bang theory — may someday be a winner.
There is considerable evidentiary support for the Big Bang — the movement of galaxies, the existence of cosmic background radiation (space appears once to have been heated by something far more powerful than all the stars combined) and the composition of the oldest stars all support Big Bang thinking. But the cosmology and astronomy communities tend to treat the Big Bang theory as already proven when there are many question marks, and not just that the prior condition is unexplained. If space itself expanded in the initial instant of the Big Bang at millions of multiples of the speed of light, um, how could that be? Why did whatever triggered the Big Bang never happen again? Why did physical laws and natural constants turn out to have exactly the values that make the universe stable, when other laws and values seem at least as likely? The theory holds that most of the material released by the Big Bang immediately annihilated in matter-antimatter reactions, meaning there was not only enough material for an entire universe in a point with no dimensions but enough material for thousands of universes. Maybe, but that’s really hard to believe.
As recently as a decade ago, astronomers and cosmologists wanted to know whether distant galaxies were moving at a steady speed or were slowing down, as momentum of the Big Bang wore off. It turned out they are speeding up. That could happen only if some form of energy were acting on the galaxies to accelerate them. Researchers decided that dark energy — which cannot be detected or explained — exists and comprises around three-quarters of universe, which is the number needed to explain the observed acceleration. The science world has been rather cavalier about saying, “We just noticed three-quarters of the universe cannot be seen or explained in any way. Next question?”
Perhaps there are good answers to mysteries of the Big Bang and dark energy, but answers are yet to be found. The work of physicists and cosmologists, and writing about their work, is full of assertions that humanity already knows information spanning eons in time and the breadth of the firmament. Check this unintentionally hilarious news release, which asserted Johns Hopkins University professors are certain they know what happened in the first trillionth of a second of the Big Bang, as “ripples in the very fabric of space may have been created.” What are “ripples in the very fabric of space?” Star Trek writers couldn’t explain that phrase, and neither can anyone at NASA. But we’re certain we know exactly what happened 13.7 billion years ago.
Your columnist suspects that in this early stage, people know 1 percent of what is possible to know. That may be quite a lot, actually. Cranky eccentrics like Arp are essential to the quest for the other 99 percent of knowledge about the natural world.
Chainsaw Dan, Jay Gruden Made for Each Other: Last week, Tuesday Morning Quarterback reported on an exclusive basis that prospective head coaches of the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons were asked to sign a waiver acknowledging that Dan Snyder would ruin their careers. Jay Gruden signed. Some might wonder why Chainsaw Dan was anxious to hire Gruden, the offensive coordinator of the Bengals, just a week after the Bengals offense stunk up the joint in a playoff loss. That’s why Snyder wanted Gruden! He’s a perfect fit for the R*dsk*ns program.
Fun fact: Gruden is in the Arena League Hall of Fame. In 1996, he threw 70 touchdown passes for the Tampa Bay Storm. The NFL season record, set this year by Peyton Manning, is 55 touchdown passes. The Arena League season record, set in 2012 by Tommy Grady, is 142 touchdown passes.
How Did Seattle Do It? The Saints came into Seattle planning to power rush — New Orleans and New England, both with pass-wacky DNA, both wanted to run in bad conditions. In the first half, the Saints often showed two tight ends, a fullback or all three together. To deal with the 12th-man din, for most of the game the Saints called plays in the huddle, then reaching the line of scrimmage, snapped without attempting to audible. Late, when the Saints did try to call audibles at the line, things didn’t go well: twice Drew Brees had to use timeouts to prevent delay-of-game penalties, one of these coming when the game clock was stopped!
New Orleans dines out on its tailback screen game. The Saints gain so many yards with screens, and slow the pass rush so well with this tactic, it’s a wonder why other NFL teams don’t do the obvious and screen more. Saturday, the Saints called six tailback screens. Two were broken up by the Seattle defense, two resulted in dropped passes, two gained first downs. Had New Orleans screen plays done better, the game result might have been different.
The West Coast defense of the Seahawks isn’t exactly a Tampa 2 but is similar: corners are in the receivers’ faces and stick to receivers as if their bodies were coated with flypaper. Do the Seattle corners get away with more pass interference than corners of other teams? Maybe. They sure hand-check more. Seattle corners and nickelbacks almost always have a hand on the receiver, the way a basketball defender would hand-check a point guard. Seattle corners are not pulling the receiver’s jersey — that would draw a flag. But they don’t keep their hands to themselves. Maybe the NFL should assign a high school dance chaperone to watch the Seattle secondary.
A cautious offense plus a monster defense may well be the formula that wins this year’s cold-weather Super Bowl. Still, Pete Carroll can’t be happy that the Saints outgained the Bluish Men Group 409-277 in offensive yards and 25-13 in first downs. The visitors missed two field goals and failed twice on fourth downs in the Maroon Zone. Had even one of those four snaps turned out differently, the game might have too.
Weasel Coach Watch No. 3: Christian Skordos of Indianapolis was among many readers to note that Bishop Sullivan Catholic high of Virginia Beach let go of a football coach who had just produced an undefeated season. Why? Because he was running up the score, and the school was embarrassed — as it should have been — to be projecting an image of bad sportsmanship. Bishop Sullivan won games this season 62-6 and 51-10, neither victory coming over an opponent that finished with a winning record. The dismissed coach, Cal Turner, told the Virginia Pilot, “I got fired because I run the score up on opposing teams. They told me not to and I defied them and did it anyway.”
Wow — the coach’s defense is that he is, as accused, a jerk. The school did well to disassociate itself from such poor sportsmanship. Winning is fun, but schools are supposed to teach character; running up the score doesn’t teach that. All high schools, public and private, say that character means more than points scored. Bishop Sullivan actually believes it!
Last Week’s Horse Collar Item: I wondered whether the horse collar tackle should be a foul. Reader Sean Austin of Bozeman, Mont., asked, “What about the voluminous Roy Williams compendium of horse-collar induced injuries from recent years? They were detailed by The Dallas Morning News.
When Scoring Is the Wrong Move: Seattle leading 16-8, Marshawn Lynch broke into the clear, running uncontested toward the end zone with 2:40 remaining and New Orleans out of time outs. Ideally he would have dropped to the turf at the Saints’ 1. The Bluish Men Group would have knelt three times, then kicked a field goal for an 11-point lead with around 30 seconds showing. At game speed, though, it’s hard to resist the urge to score. Ahmad Bradshaw couldn’t resist in the Super Bowl; Brian Westbrook and Maurice Jones-Drew did resist in regular-season contests.
Adventures in Officiating: Defensive backs for New Orleans and Carolina were called for unnecessary roughness for hitting receivers after the pass was incomplete. In both cases it was just a second after, but in both cases it was the correct call — the receivers were defenseless players under the rule change that took effect in 2011, and is well known to defensive backs. In both cases, what would have been an incompletion on third-and-long became a first down, followed by a field goal on the drive.
At Carolina, zebras called roughing the passer on San Francisco, converting third-and-long into a first down. San Francisco linebacker Dan Skuta hit Cam Newton helmet-to-helmet, but it happened as Newton spun low toward Skuta, and Newton was not in a passing stance, rather, attempting to roll out. The impression was that the foul wasn’t fair to the defender.
But new rules intended to protect the quarterback say that while a quarterback who leaves the pocket loses protection of the “one-step” restriction on defenders, other special protections, including prohibition of helmet-to-helmet contact, remain. See the lengthy rule beginning at article 9 (a). Perhaps the new rule needs to be amended. Newton hit the defender as much as the defender hit him, but the rule was correctly enforced as written. Because Newton threw an interception a few snaps later, the flag did not impact the outcome.
Early in the San Francisco-Carolina pairing, Anquan Boldin and Captain Munnerlyn were jawing after a play. Munnerlyn head-butted the 49ers receiver, and the unnecessary roughness flag helped position San Francisco for a field goal. The penalty was low-football-IQ by Carolina. Later, after a different play, Boldin head-butted the Cats’ Mike Mitchell — no flag. Why this was a foul when done by the home team and fine when done by the visitor is anyone’s guess. Your columnist is with Troy Aikman who, calling the contest, said he is really tired of Boldin’s strut-around act. Me too. Boldin is a good player, but needs to stop acting like a 14-year-old.
Postgame, Panthers complained about the third-and-goal pass interference call just before intermission, which turned a likely San Francisco field goal into first-and-goal from the 1, followed by a touchdown. This play was pass interference all the way — defender Drayton Florence body-slammed the receiver as the pass approached.
Look Closely in ‘American Hustle’ for Adams’ ‘Junebug’ Co-star Alessandro Nivola: TMQ has liked actress Amy Adams since seeing her in “Junebug” a decade ago. There’s no shame in the 39-year-old mother carrying off extensive cleavage scenes in “American Hustle” and at the Golden Globes. But Hollywood was in a tizzy last winter when Seth MacFarlane did his “We saw your boobs” parody at the Oscars. Then at Hollywood’s next big event, prominent actresses on the red carpet back up exactly the point MacFarlane was making.
Last Week’s Adventures in Officiating Item: TMQ wrote, “Zebras allowed a lot of contact between defensive backs receivers” in the wild-card round … officials tend to allow more pass interference and holding in the playoffs.” This regular season, there were 12 called penalties per game; in the wild-card round, there were eight (accepted penalties, the number in most box scores, usually is lower). I also said that LaMichael James should have been called for batting the ball out of his own end zone on a kickoff, that the result should not have been a safety but Green Bay given the option of re-kicking, from its own 45, which might have made an onside attractive.
Last Friday, Dean Blandino, the league’s director of officials, sent the sports media a video in which he declared, “The philosophy in the postseason, the direction is no different from the regular season when we talk with our officials. We want them to call the game the same way.” Blandino said James should have been called for batting, giving Green Bay the option of a re-kick. But Blandino did not mention any other no-calls from the wild-card round, instead going into great detail on two minor calls that didn’t matter. The video was accompanied by a disclaimer stating, “For informational purposes only.” What other purpose could it have?
Goofy NBA Trade: TMQ has noted that the primary function of NBA general managers is to get rid of players in order to create salary cap space to acquire new players to get rid of. Last summer, the Cavs signed Andrew Bynum to a megabucks deal. “We are very excited about” obtaining Bynum, Cavs general Manager Chris Grant said. After having him on the roster just 24 games, Cleveland stopped being excited, trading Bynum, and multiple draft picks with multiple asterisks, to Chicago for Luol Deng. Chicago wanted to get rid of Deng’s contract in return for someone whose contract they could also get rid of. Bynum was on the Bulls’ roster for only a few hours before being waived. Back at the Cavs, Grant said, “Luol reflects all that we are striving for.” How long until Cleveland is working the phones, trying to get rid of Deng?
Weasel Coach Watch No. 4: Bill O’Brien coached at Penn State just two years before sprinting out the door for more money. Since Penn State averted its eyes from children being exploited, the school cannot complain about being exploited by O’Brien. But as the invaluable Inside Higher Education notes, in July 2012, when football team members were offered the option of transferring to other colleges without NCAA restrictions, O’Brien begged them to stay, saying of a players meeting, “I talked to them about the bond they’ve formed with this football staff.” Nearly all stayed, believing O’Brien would honor his side of the bond. Then the moment money was waved, O’Brien broke his promises and left.
Next Week: One way or the other, the Super Bowl will be West Coast defense versus no-huddle offense.
In addition to writing Tuesday Morning Quarterback for ESPN, Gregg Easterbrook is the author of “The King of Sports” and eight other books, and is a contributing editor of The Atlantic. His website is here and you can follow him on Twitter here.
- Author of “The King of Sports”
- Former Fulbright distinguished fellow
- Contributing editor to “The Atlantic”