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NFL Random Thoughts
by Al McMordie - 10/25/2005
Martyball: Chargers' coach Marty Schottenheimer is an unusual character. Some put for the argument that he's an above-average coach, who is able to take over weak teams, bring discipline and organization, and turn them around. Others argue he's overrated, and that his teams consistently blow games they should win because of his ultra-conservative play-calling. This past week, Marty's detractors gained fuel for their fire, as San Diego absorbed another gut-wrenching defeat in Philadelphia -- a game the Chargers appeared to have won. The Eagles returned a blocked field goal 65-yards for a stunning TD with 2:37 left for a 20-17 win.
Let's examine what happened immediately preceding the kick. The Eagles went for it on fourth and one and failed. San Diego took over on the Philly 30 with 3:29 left and leading by four. A TD drive ices the game, as would a few first downs as the Chargers could run out the clock. Instead, conservative Marty did the obvious -- he ran the ball three straight times. Philly had anticipated San Diego's ground game all day and stacked the line, and for the game the Chargers had 21 yards rushing on 20 carries, for a meager 1.1 yards per carry! Not surprisingly, it was three-and-out on that drive, and then the field goal attempt was blocked. Which begs the question: Why not go for it? Why do the obvious: three straight runs?! Why not try one play-action roll out, something the Eagles wouldn't have expected? I'm not saying the Chargers blew the game with that play-calling, but isn't it obvious you don't win championships by being conservative?
At some point a champion takes chances. Look at USC last week going for it at the Notre Dame one-yard line. Go back and look at the Patriots the last four years and you find many examples where they do the unorthodox, the unexpected, and surprise the opposition. Last year in the playoffs the Chargers went ultra-conservative in overtime against the Jets, and turned a promising drive into a long field goal attempt -- by a rookie kicker in lousy weather (he missed!). The Jets ended up winning. This year, San Diego blew a big lead and lost at Denver. Yes, the Broncos have a solid team, but how long does it take professional coaches to connect the dots? Sorry, Charger fans, you may have one of the most talented teams in the NFL, but a title is not going to happen with this coaching staff.
Unstoppable Colts:It's certainly been the year of the Colts, taking an unbeaten record into their bye week. However, before annointing this team as Champions, let's point out two weaknesses. One, they haven't played anybody. Two, this run defense is still suspect. Last week on Monday night the Rams used Marshall Faulk and Stephen Jackson to do something no one has really tried since the Patriots beat the Colts in the playoffs in January: Run right at 'em. Jackson had 46 yards rushing in a 162-yard first quarter as the Rams jumped to a 17-0 lead. He finished with 88 yards on 17 carries, but the turning point of the game was the injury to QB Marc Bulger, who was carving up the Colts when he went down. Indy still gave up 20 first-half points. Then on Sunday, the winless Texans tried the same formula and running back Domanick Davis had 85 of his 98 yards before halftime. Sure, the Colts came back and won easily (and covered -- unfortunately for me, since I had Houston). Still, I ask the question, 'What's going to happen when the Colts play better teams that can also run the football like the Steelers and Pats?' We'll find out soon. The Colts' next game is at New England, and when they met in January, RB Corey Dillon had 144 rushing yards in a 17-point Patriots victory.
Steel Curtain: I read an interesting perspective before the Steelers played the Bengals Sunday in a Pittsburgh newspaper. A lot of folks are jumping on the Bengal bandwagon, but one astute football scribe pointed out the pressure is on the Bengals, because the Steelers have been in many big games and know how good they are. Cincy is still climbing up the ladder for respect. Pittsburgh certainly seemed like the more seasoned club in its upset victory at Cincy.
Futures Bettors, Take Note: This may be a long shot, but why not the Washington Redskins as NFC Champs? I saw them at 33-to-1 to win the Super Bowl at a book in Las Vegas. Over the last three weeks this offense has really caught fire, getting 447 yards against Denver, 398 against KC and Sunday's 52-point rout over the 49ers. Their defense is great, they have a solid running game behind Clinton Portis, and now the passing game seems to be clicking under Joe Gibbs and QB Mark Brunell. Good luck as always...Al McMordie.