Bad Coaching Dooms Dallas, San Diego
by Robert Ferringo - 1/18/2010
In the least surprising news that I’ve heard since Sarah Palin joining Fox News, Wade Philips and Norv Turner once again humiliated themselves and their teams on Sunday en route to a premature playoff exit.
I’ve been repeating this over and over and over again all season and have said that I was just waiting for their most recent implosion. But what is stunning to me is how today, this Monday afternoon, the airwaves are full of people that are in disbelief over the failures of these two men.
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I’m not going to kill Phillips for Dallas getting beat down by Minnesota. I said in a radio interview two weeks ago that if the Cowboys beat the Eagles that they were going to get rolled by the Vikings. That one was pretty easy and Dallas simply wasn’t good enough to go in there and get a win.
I suppose you could put some things on Phillips. The fact that his team folded when things got tough is vintage Wade. And the fact that sloppy play – turnovers, missed field goals, penalties – was at the core of the loss is not at all surprising. I mean, some guys are just born losers. And no matter how much they scrub they will never get clean of that. So while Philips wasn’t out there fumbling or running for his life from Vikings defensive ends, you have to, at the very least, admit that somehow these things always seem to find Bum’s son. And that after a while it’s not a coincidence.
But I’ll say that there weren’t any egregious examples of total ineptitude from Phillips. Nothing overt. Not like, say, the catastrophe that was the last few minutes of Turner’s season.
Norv Turner is born loser. And it is clear that Norv will never, ever, ever win a Super Bowl. (It is some manner of Greek comedy that Turner replaced Mary Schottenheimer, another coach cursed by his own need to wrap his hands around his own neck every postseason.) And for that reason it also shouldn’t have been stunning that missed field goals, bad turnovers, and inopportune penalties plagued San Diego on Sunday. Those things are all hallmarks of poorly disciplined and unprepared teams. And whose job is it to make sure that a team is disciplined and prepared? You got it.
I’m not one for Monday morning quarterbacking. Trust me, in my profession there is nothing worse than the guy who wants to question every losing play that you put up on the board. I get that. But my thing is that if you were watching that Jets-Chargers game with me you would have gotten an earful about why Norv was a joke how he colossally mismanaged the clock and the game in the last three minutes and how his rampant stupidity sabotaged an undeserving team’s season. (My wife was reading a magazine at the end of the couch, but she still got a lesson in NFL clock management and can vouch for how dumbfounded I was.)
So let’s ignore the fact that San Diego has stumbled and bumbled its way to a 17-14 deficit with 2:14 still on the clock. Let’s just pick it up there.
First, it was a fatal and colossally stupid decision for San Diego to try to go for the onsides kick. And that wasn’t just because he didn’t recover it. Clearly there is an argument to be made for the other side. But in my opinion we’re talking about an absurdly low-odds play and it cost his team a shot at advancing. The Chargers were at home. They had momentum. In their past two offensive series they had carved up the Jets en route to a missed field goal and a touchdown. They were down three points with one timeout and the two-minute warning still on their side. All of these things set up really well and had not put the Chargers in a truly “dire” situation that would have necessitated them going for the onsides kick. (For example, if they were down a touchdown with 36 seconds left or something.)
There are three reasons why going for the onsides kick was dumb. First, they only needed a field goal. That means that field position is CRITICAL. If they kick off, the average field position that the Jets would have had would have been around the 25. And because New York had to play up for the onsides kick, with only one return man back, the field position actually could have been significantly worse. So if the Chargers had gotten the stop, the Jets would’ve punted (more on that in a minute), and then San Diego would have had the ball back in really good field position (anywhere from their own 25 to their own 40). That would have meant that San Diego would have had to go about 30-40 yards with no timeouts and about a 1:10 to play to attempt a tying field goal. That is very, very doable.
The next reason why it was dumb was because it brought the fourth-and-one into play. Had San Diego kicked off and stopped the Jets on three straight running plays then there is no way that Ryan is going for it on fourth down at his own 20 or 25. (And you know that Rex Ryan was going to play it straight and just run the ball three times. He was going to trust his defense more than his rookie quarterback.) After watching what happened to the Patriots and Bill Belichick earlier this season in Indianapolis I don’t think there was any way in the world that Ryan would have went for it on his own side of the field. He’d play the percentages and put it on his defense.
But because the Jets already had the ball in San Diego territory what would have been the worst that could have happened on that fourth-and-short? Even if they had been stopped they would have been in the same spot they would have been if the Chargers had kicked off and stopped the Jets – San Diego ball near the 30 with around a minute to play.
Finally, the onsides kick is a momentum play. San Diego had the look and feel of a team that knew it was going to come back. They could have put all of the pressure on the rookie coach and the rookie quarterback to try to do something to stop the slide. The defense would have been fired up and would have been able to muscle up against a team hell-bent on trying to run the ball. But when the Jets recovered the kick it was like a big sigh of relief could be felt on their sideline. Again, they knew that the worst-case scenario at that point was a turnover on downs and they still had the lead and field position, along with the clock, working in their favor.
So those are three reasons why the onsides kick was just a dumb move. Now, onto the issue of clock management. The way that Norv played it didn’t end up having an impact on the game. But the reality of the situation is that he didn’t know what he was doing and it was obvious with the way he played the last 2:14. And that tells me all I need to know about this guy as a pro coach and why he will never win a Super Bowl.
The Jets recovered that ill-fated onsides kick with 2:12 left on the clock. They were stuffed for no gain on their first play, which took about five seconds. Now – and it is shocking to me how many professional coaches don’t know this – you ALWAYS use your timeouts north of the two-minute warning. Always. With no exception. And it’s simple math as to why. Jets ran a play. If the Chargers use their timeout it’s now second-and-10 with about 2:07 to go. Then after second down there would be 2:00 to play. But the way that Norv did it, he waited until AFTER the second down play to call his timeout instead of before it. The result was a four-yard gain and then the timeout with 1:55 left on the clock, instead of 2:00.
So, in essence, Norv cost himself and his team five seconds because he didn’t know what the hell he was doing. And if you don’t think that five seconds can mean a lot in an NFL game you haven’t watched much NFL football.
But it even goes beyond that. If Norv uses his timeout with 2:07 to play, after first down, then that puts the Jets in a position. Maybe New York tries to get cute and throw the ball on second down. And in this situation the Chargers (or any team that is behind in this predicament) wants a pass. A pass leaves a shot for a sack, an interception, a penalty, an incompletion or anything else that could stop the clock and get them the ball back with more time on the clock.
Of course, you’d have to be kind of a fool if you are the Jets and you throw a second-down pass in that spot. So, assuming that, and knowing that after second down is the two-minute warning you can stack the box with your goal line package and maybe you don’t give up four yards on that run. That could set up a third-and-long and, again, the idea of a pass starts to creep into the opposing coach’s mind.
Now, that’s conjecture. But the five seconds that Turner cost his team can’t be argued with. Neither can the 45 yards that he gave up by going for an onsides kick. Mix in the fact that he opened the door for the Jets to go for it and the momentum swing that he allowed and all of this adds up to one thing: this is a coach that had no idea what he was doing when it came to the biggest decisions of his team’s season. We might be able to chastise and then overlook if Turner had some Super Bowl rings on his mantle. But since he is generally considered to be one of the biggest choke-artists in the sport this most recent example of ineptitude is just inexcusable.
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So to spin this forward, if you’re thinking about putting that cash down on a futures bet on San Diego next year you might want to check and see whose wearing the headset. And if it is a man named Norv you’ll be better off grabbing a lap dance, a bottle of something, and a good meal than setting yourself up for another January of frustration.