It's fourth down and you're an NFL coach. What do you do? The answer? Kick it.
No, you don't need to know the score, the time, the yard line or the distance to go. I said you're an NFL coach, remember? It doesn't matter what the optimal strategy is. The answer is kick it. Punt or try a field goal, but whatever you do, don't go for it.
It seems to me there ought to be cycles or trends in this area, but evidently not. If you want a picture of the future, imagine conservatives in power on NFL sidelines -- forever.
The Seattle Seahawks were driving downfield early in the fourth quarter Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals. The Seahawks had scored 17 unanswered points since just before halftime to tie the game 17-17, and now they'd marched easily through a tiring Cardinals defense, gobbling up 78 yards in eight plays, going from their own 12 to the Arizona 10.
Now it was fourth-and-1, about 10 minutes to go. On the drive, the Seahawks had three rushes for 14 yards. In the half, they'd run nine times for 54 yards. They'd faced one third- or fourth-and-short all day, a fourth-and-1 from the Cardinals 16 in the third quarter. Shaun Alexander had run it in for a touchdown.
With the Cardinals on their heels and a chance to go ahead by a touchdown, what did Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren do?
Kicked a field goal. He's an NFL coach.
The Cardinals drove from their own 20 to the Seattle 24 before backing up 10 yards on a penalty and settling for a 52-yard field goal to tie the game with 4:43 to go. Then came the final Seahawks possession, which ended on a fumbled handoff from Matt Hasselbeck to Alexander. The Cardinals drove 22 yards and kicked the game-winning field goal.
Holmgren's refusal to call timeout and leave his team some time to strike back is a whole 'nother issue -- most NFL coaches waste timeouts, though ending the game with arrows in the quiver is a tried-and-true NFL formula. And the fourth-down wuss-out happened too early in the fourth quarter to say it cost the Seahawks the game, but it was still a terrible call.
If you don't think you can get one yard after you've just chomped up 78 of them in eight plays against a fading defense that wasn't that good in the first place, what are you doing? And anyway the downside of going for it on that fourth-and-1 would have been pinning the Cardinals, who had barely made it across midfield in the second half, inside their 10.
The Cardinals lost a prime-time game last year in spectacular fashion when their coach at the time, Dennis Green, turned into a giant chicken, handing the contest to the Chicago Bears in an astonishing loss of nerve. This wasn't quite that, but at least the Cardinals, now coached by Ken Whisenhunt, benefited this time.
Holmgren wasn't the only one. As this column's regular gadfly the Notorious W.E.B. pointed out in Monday's letters thread, Romeo Crennel of the Cleveland Browns showed a similar lack of sand in his team's eventual 51-45 barn-burner over the Cincinnati Bengals.
The St. Louis Rams, having moved from their own 25 to the San Francisco 38 in the two-minute drill, trailing 17-16, faced a fourth-and-3 with about a minute to play. Did Scott Linehan go for it?
No, he did not. Scott Linehan is an NFL coach. He sent out the field-goal unit for a 56-yard try. No good. To be fair, it didn't miss by much, but what are the odds of hitting a 56-yarder and what are the odds of converting a fourth-and-3?
Linehan went for that coaching favorite: The safe move that's actually more risky, but somehow feels safer, so it gets you less criticism.
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Don't hate those Steelers throwback unis [PERMALINK]
The uniforms are an amalgam of the duds the Steelers, founded in 1933 as the Pittsburgh Pirates, wore in the 1940s, '50s and '60s, which wasn't a very good era for them. They didn't really have any good eras until they started winning Super Bowls in the '70s, but unfortunately their '70s unis are essentially the same as the current ones.
I'm not a big fan of the amalgam idea. I like it when teams bring back the uniform of a specific year. The Steelers are celebrating their 75th season -- counting the two years during the Second World War when they merged with first the Philadelphia Eagles and then the Chicago Cardinals -- so re-creating the 1933 uniforms would have been cool. Beyond cool, actually. Check that link. That's the city of Pittsburgh crest on the front. Looks like a hockey sweater. But they wore those suits in 1994 during the NFL's 75th anniversary throwback wingding.
Other good candidates would have been 1940, when they switched to the Steelers name; 1942, the franchise's first winning season; and 1962, when the Steelers made two major sartorial changes. First, they added the steelmark to their helmet, becoming one of the last NFL teams to put an insignia on their hat. Then, to celebrate what was then their best record, 9-5, and a Playoff Bowl appearance, they switched from gold to black helmets for that not-so-big not-quite-playoff game. Once they went black, they never went back.
And relatively speaking, 1962 was good times for the Steelers. From 1957 through 1963, they only had two losing seasons out of seven, though they never won a division or anything. Besides, those early '60s uniforms were outtasite.
But having said all that, what I liked about the Steelers' amalgam throwbacks was the color white. I'm always struck by how effective the color white is when teams that normally wear gold switch to it.
I've always thought the San Francisco 49ers had ugly uniforms, but when they wore white instead of Gulden's-mustard gold in 1994, and again for a few seasons later in the decade, I thought they were sharper than sharp. I think the same of the Los Angeles Lakers' white Sunday uniforms.
As long as the Steelers were amalgamming, I'd have voted for black jerseys instead of the historically accurate dark brown, but that's a nitpick. The Steelers say they'll wear the throwbacks again on Nov. 5 against the Baltimore Ravens, so that'll be another chance for me to enjoy them and you to hate them.
The Ravens could wear throwbacks that day just by dressing up as the Cleveland Browns, but that would be acknowledging a part of history that's been rewritten. </pointless lost-cause hobbyhorse>
One last fashion note: Didn't that Green Bay Packers-New York Giants game Sunday look great? I mean just visually. The Packers in their vivid gold, white and green uniforms, the Giants in their bright blue with red trim. Both with bold, clear, un-fussy, un-busy designs. Beautiful pictures, though the Giants would look sharp if they switched back to white pants.
Previous column: Lessons of Week 2
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