Thursday, October 19, 2006

I'm still a little bothered by the fact that the MNF game is being referred to only as a gigantic choke by Arizona, first of all, because I think that takes some credit away from the Bears for what they did to win the game, and secondly because I'm not even sure that "choke" properly describes what Arizona did.

I'll start with the second one, cuz it's a little easier. If you want to call that game a choke, I think you'd have to point to some point where Arizona just stopped playing well, and that never really happened. It's not like the Arizona defense, which had been playing amazingly all game, suddenly stopped playing well and let the Bears score 21 points on them. The Arizona defense kept clobbering that Bears' offense all game. I mean, it looked like they even made it harder than it should've been for Grossman to kneel down at the end of the game. Likewise, the Arizona offense. It's been established that Arizona had trouble running the ball all game, just like they have all year. Fine. And when Arizona scored the fourteen points they scored at the beginning of the game, they did it by passing. Yes. But they did all of that in the first quarter, when apparently the Bears defense wasn't ready for the game to start. Arizona got a lot of yards and both touchdowns when receivers weren't stopped by the first people to get to them. That didn't happen the rest of the game. Arizona got two field goals in the second quarter because Grossman gave them the ball in field goal territory, but they didn't get anything running or passing, really, after the first quarter. Lots has been written about how the Cards lost because their play-calling got conservative and they stopped passing, but, by my count, in the fourth quarter, which is when the Bears won the game, Arizona passed fifteen times and ran the ball ten times. Of those plays, nine of the runs were ineffective, with a majority of them being stopped by Urlacher, one of them resulting in a Bears touchdown. Eight of their fifteen passes were completely ineffective, either incomplete or short gains when long gains were needed, and every one of those ineffective passes were because the Bears defense was playing extremely aggressively, hitting receivers as soon as they touched the ball, nailing Leinart just after he let go of the ball, chasing Leinart around so his throw was more difficult. Three other of the passes were short gains that were somewhat effective because they were on early downs, but again, on every one of these, the receiver was stopped as soon as they got the ball and Leinart had to deal with pressure. Of the remaining four "effective" pass plays, there were still none on which the receiver got any yards beyond the first defender to reach him. That means, in the fourth quarter, there were only five effective offensive plays by Arizona, out of twenty-five total. And none of them were effective for anything much more than first downs. There was one passing play that moved Arizona into reasonable field goal range, and it was the last pass they ran, setting up a 2nd down with 2-yards to go for the first. It's at this point that a lot of people point to say that Arizona gave it up, becuase they were jusrt playing for a gimme field goal from forty yards out. I don't think, though, they were playing for a field goal at that point. It's second and two, and even though they hadn't been able to get much running, I think you have to figure, if you're a coach, that you can pick up two yards running the ball a couple of times. It looked like they were trying to run for the first down. And I think there's a good reason at that point to try to run for the first down when you have two yards to go and two downs left in which to do it, which is that if you try to pass it on eithe r of those and it ends up incomplete, which seven out of your fifteen previous passes have been, you stop the clock. And, when you're almost in easy field goal range, and the clock is low, and you need two yards in two plays to keep the drive going, I don't think you want to risk stopping the clock. But, aside from avoiding that risk, if you're an NFL team, you have to figure you can pick up two yards in two plays by running. Even if you're Arizona. They didn't exactly choke at that point: the Bears defense forced them to try for the field goal from farther out than they wanted to. It's not like they ran three straight runs with ten yards to go; they ran two straight runs with two yards to go. On the first run they picked up a yard. It's third and one, you need one yard to pick up the first down and then you can move a little farther into field goal range, if you try to pass and it's incomplete you have stopped the clock and given the Bears more time to try to move themselves into field goal range should you make it, and, I mean, it's one frickin yard, you should trust your running team to pick that up: I just don't think it's the wimpy conservative thing to run here. I think it's a better idea than passing. Another thing about the Arizona passing game: five of their seven not-ineffective passing plays came on that last drive, and it was because Chicago switched back to a softer cover from the aggressive pressure defense they'd been playing. I personally think the Bears should've just kept going right after Leinart on that last drive to absolutely eliminate the Cards from the game, like they'd been doing the rest of the quarter, but that's not what they did. Anyway, on plays when the Bears defense was really going after the Cardinals, the Cardinals passed nine times, six of which were incomplete, and one of which was a 4-yard pass on 3rd & 8. So to say that Arizona had been effective while passing but they gave up on it and then lost is not exactly accurate. The Bears defense pretty much stopped Arizona for three-fourths of the game, and it's more their fault than Arizona's that Arizona couldn't get into decent field goal range at the end. In fact, when Barkley was in the booth in the second quarter, he said something about the fact that Arizona couldn't get to the end zone was a pretty big deal, and I think even said that if the Bears stopped them it was going to be a turning point in the game. The MNF guys kind of laughed at him, but it was funny that he was actually more right than they were about it. When your celebrity guest is analyzing the game bette than your paid commentators, you've got a problem, ESPN...

What bothers me most about all the choke talk is that it doesn't give the Bears credit in an area in which they really, I think, deserve some credit. This has to do with the flukey nature of football in general. Everyone knows that things can change suddenly on one play, if the defense, say, recovers a fumble and runs it in for a touchdown, or if a punt is returned for a touchdown. The Bears had several of those things happen in the game, and those things are the reasons why they one. Of course, because those events are so sudden, they seem to be flukey, and to a pretty high degree they really are pretty flukey. But what I think the Bears and Lovie Smith don't get enough credit for is that, instead of taking the normal approach to those events, which is to try to ignore them or play in spite of them and take what you can get while shrugging off what you give, they try their best to make those things happen. That is how Lovie got the Bears to win that game: he had them go out in the second half, and especially in the fourth quarter, and try to make something crazy happen on every play. He did the unexpected on-side kick, which easily could've worked had Gould kicked it just a little lighter. He went for the block on the punt. He brought Hester in to return touchdowns, too. He knows that on every play, it's possible to create the possibility to score, and he had the team really attacking to try to create that possibility. Most people have a more rational approach to the game and try to get their team to win by minimizing mistakes and through solid play and stuff. But a football game is just as likely to be won by "freak" plays that lead to sudden changes in the score, and Lovie has his team playing with an eye to that fact in a way that I don't think any other football team plays. If you say repeatedly, as Lovie has, that your defense and special teams are out there not just to create opportunities for the offense but to actually score themselves, and then you win a game for precisely that reason, I think you have to get some credit for that.

No comments: