DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE PATRIOTS AND DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE NATIONAL HYSTERIA OVER FOURTH AND TWO

                                                                                    Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

Much has been made about Bill Belichick’s ill-fated decision to go for it on fourth and two, late in the game, up six from his own 28 against the Colts. You know what happened – reliable Kevin Faulk bobbles the pass, catches it, gets knocked backwards immediately, gets a questionable spot and comes up short of the first down. Peyton Manning goes 29 yards like it’s nothing – game over.

SO, WAS IT THE “WORST DECISION EVER IN THE HISTORY OF FOOTBALL?”

Well, of course it wasn’t, but after the play failed, the national hysteria took hold and it took a few days for the argument to get back to where it should have been. When Belichick makes a call like that, you have to pay attention, you have to think it through, before you condemn one of the greatest coaches ever.

The best take was probably from former players Ron Jaworski and Mike Ditka (also, obviously, a Super Bowl-winning coach). Jaworski said he thought it was a bad call, “but I understand the thinking behind it.” Mike Ditka said “it was a gutsy call. I couldn’t have done it.”

That’s about the best summation of what happened.

BELICHICK’S REAL MISTAKE

Well, if you watch the Patriots as much as this writer has had to watch them (my son is a die-hard Patriots fan and we’ve watched virtually every Patriots game since the year before the Patriots won their first Super Bowl), you know that Belichick often goes for it on fourth down. He has been influenced greatly by a paper that sets out statistically why it is better to go on fourth and short than to punt. While this was an extreme example of following this analysis, a lot more goes into the decision than just stats.

But Belichick, when he thinks he might go for it on fourth and short, virtually always runs it on third down if it’s third and short.

And therein lies the problem on the fourth and two pass play. If the Patriots had run it on third and two and fourth and short (if they didn’t make it on third down) against a team (the Colts) who can’t stop the run, it’s hard to believe that they wouldn’t have gotten the first down, clinching the win.

So it would seem that Bill Belichick wasn’t really thinking about going for it on fourth down BEFORE third down. It says here that, if he had, he would have run it on both downs. So he had to call his final time-out before fourth down and then decided to go for it. Of course, calling that time out negated any chance to challenge the shaky spot.

WHAT ABOUT THE SPOT?

Well, it was questionable, to say the least. While the official correctly stated that the ball was bobbled, it was kind of like those two plays at first in the Angels-Red Sox playoff series this year when the ump made two terrible safe calls because the first baseman (Kevin Youkilis) was pulled off the bag (even though he clearly got the runners out) (see KallasRemarks, 10/21/09). So, too, on this play, the bobble and then catch still looked like Faulk, a consummate pro, had enough for the first down. But the official spotted it short of the 30.

Forget what this writer thinks, Phil Simms, the best football broadcaster on the planet, saw the play and he thinks that it was a terrible spot and should have been a first down even with the bobble. He was really the only one to specifically address the spot. Everyone else seemed to assume that it was correct.

WILL THIS HURT THE PATRIOTS’ DEFENSE?

Unlikely. While the Patriots offense isn’t what it was in 2007 (comparisons to now and then are stupid because there probably aren’t three offenses in the history of football that can be compared to the 2007 Patriots), Belichick decided to try to win the game with his Hall of Fame quarterback and a stunning offense.

While former players Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison criticized their former coach from a defensive player’s perspective, maybe they don’t understand that the 2009 Patriots defense doesn’t have either of them or Richard Seymour or Mike Vrabel or Willie McGinest or Ty Law or … hopefully, you get the point.

And, if you really follow the Patriots, you know what the loss of Ty Warren on that front three did to Vince Wilfork in this game – he’s guaranteed to be double-teamed on virtually every play.

As Phil Simms also said, if the Patriots defense is upset, they will just have to play better to make Belichick comfortable in punting the ball. If they are not better, Belichick , who coaches “by fear” according to Simms (as did Bill Parcells, according to Simms), will just find other players.

WHAT ABOUT THE STATS?

Well, what about the stats? You can’t be a prisoner to them, but certainly they at least support the notion that it was a good call. While this writer agrees with Jaworski that it was a bad call but an understandable thought process, in defense of Belichick, you have to consider what QB he would have been punting the ball to – one of the best ever. If Mark Sanchez is the QB getting the ball or virtually any other QB other than the two in this game, Belichick probably punts it.

While many have pointed to the fact that the Colts had punted seven times and that Manning had been intercepted twice, you must remember that the Colts had already easily gone down the field in the fourth quarter twice – five plays, 79 yards in 2:04 for their first TD of the quarter and six plays, 79 yards in 1:49 for their second TD of the quarter (according to NFL.com).

You can, at least, certainly understand why Belichick was worried about punting the ball back to Manning.

And, remember, for those who say that the Patriots were in some kind of prevent defense earlier in the quarter, the 40 extra yards that Manning would have to go after a punt would be, generally, easier to get than the final 29 that he did have to get. Even on a final drive 70 yards from the goal, many teams give up yardage between the 30s. The last 30 are virtually always the toughest to get.

WHAT ABOUT THE BIG PICTURE OF THIS GAME?

Most “experts” can’t see the forest for the trees. The Patriots walked into Indy, totally outplayed the Colts for over three-and-a-half quarters and lost the game with (maybe?) a bad decision by the head coach. When asked the next day whether he would do the same thing again, Bill Belichick avoided the question by saying “it was a one-time deal.” We won’t know the answer to that question unless the identical situation happens again against the Colts.

While losing their slim chance to gain home field advantage throughout the playoffs (look at the Colts’ schedule even if the Patriots had won), the Patriots take a lot of positives away from this game: they can score, almost at will, against the Colts (don’t forget that Maroney fumbled into the Colts end zone for a touchback and Brady got intercepted in the end zone). They also are two up in their own division after the collapse of the Jets and the Ronnie Brown-less, up-and-down Dolphins, moved to 5-5.

So the Patriots will make the playoffs and maybe get a bye (could be tough the way the Bengals are playing). If they have to go into Indy in January, don’t you like their chances? This writer does.

WHAT ABOUT THE JETS AND THE GIANTS?

The New York football season has gone south in the last few weeks with both teams in serious trouble. The Jets have gone from euphoria after the first three weeks to now having a slim (at best) shot to make the playoffs. After a brutal home loss to the Jaguars, the Jets have to go up to New England to face the angry Patriots.

Uh-oh.

The Jets beat the Patriots in week 2, a fabulous win for the Jets. But, my, how things have changed since week 2. The Patriots offense, with Brady back for only one game when they lost to the Jets after missing a year, is now clicking on all cylinders. With no Wes Welker in week 2, even though excellent rookie Julian Edelman did a fine job filling in, the Patriots weren’t yet the PATRIOTS.

Offensively, they are now.

And the Jets don’t have Kris Jenkins or Leon Washington. That’s a big problem.

And when your coach is crying in a press conference, well, that’s not going to instill confidence in your team.

This could get ugly.

As for the Giants, their falloff is puzzling, to say the least. Brandon Jacobs still looks like he has happy feet getting to the holes. Eli Manning, on the verge of entering the top echelon of QBs in the NFL earlier this season, hasn’t been very good at all since hurting his foot. The great pass rush of years past has virtually disappeared.

And they have a pretty tough schedule the rest of the way (although recent injuries have really hurt some of their opponents).

WHO WOULD YOU WANT TO COACH YOUR TEAM?

Bill Belichick took a national beating this past week, with some experts describing his fourth-and-two call as “the worst call in the history of football.” While that is debatable, what’s not debatable is this: if you’re a Jets fan or a Giants fan, who would you like to be the HC of the NYJ or the HC of the NYG: the guys who are here (no knock on them, especially Tom Coughlin, a Super Bowl-winning coach in his own right) or Bill Belichick?

You get the point.

© Copyright 2009 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

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One response to “DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE PATRIOTS AND DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE NATIONAL HYSTERIA OVER FOURTH AND TWO

  1. Mickey Mantle was one of the worst Defensive center fielder I ever saw. He drove in >100 runs in 3 of 21 seasons played. He hit under .300. His HR’s to Strike outs Ratios was terrible. NYC media got him to hall of fame. His comtempory , Frank Robinson was better in every way.

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