Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Tom Cable: A Lesson In Underthinking

In one decision Tom Cable proved he's not fit for the job.

Many coaches can be rightfully accused of overthinking a situation but in rare instances overthinking leads to underthinking. Overthinking sometimes involves going for two in the second quarter to go up 9 points instead of 8 or putting on a hit and run with a large struggling lefthander at the plate when your hottest hitter is hitting behind him. If it works, great. If not, you look like an idiot. Well there is a trend in the NFL that has gained steam for some reason and it just redefines the concept of overthinking. It is the late timeout before a last minute kick.

If memory serves me correctly, this move was brought to prominence by Mike Shanahan in a game against the Raiders. He called a late timeout, Seabass kicked it anyway, it went through the uprights, the Raiders rejoiced but all was for naught because the refs ruled that Shanahan had called the timeout just prior to the kick. Of course the next time Janikowski teed it up he hit the upright and the Broncos went on to win. The move was celebrated as genius and copied by every half-wit coach in the NFL ever since. The move is really just an extreme extension of the “ice the kicker” mantra, the effectivenesss of which is purely subjective. Whatever you believe about the effectiveness doesn’t really matter for the purpose of my argument. The real problem I have is that using this technique should not be automatic, and in fact it loses its effectiveness in certain situations that come up frequently and STILL some idiots just use it because they feel they’re supposed to.

During the Raiders v. Jets game this past Sunday, the Jets were down 3 with about a minute left and were being led up the field by quarterback Bert Favor with no timeouts. With 8 seconds left on 2nd & 10, Bert threw an incomplete pass to Brad Smith. This left 3rd & 10 with 8 seconds left and put the Jets on the outside limit of Jay Feely’s range (about a 51-52 yard attempt). After a moment or two of indecision about whether to run one more play to pick up 2-3 more yards, the Jets hurried their field goal team onto the field as the play clock wound down. With the Jets barely able to get into position to kick and Feely rushing in to line up for his first 50 yard attempt of the season, Tom Cable called a timeout a fraction of a second before the Jets snapped the ball. Feely kicked it anyway and the ball hit the crossbar and bounced back no good. On his next try, he nailed it and sent the game into overtime.

Well what does this prove? Not a whole hell of a lot if you believe that icing the kicker is still the best route to go and Feely just happened to overcome it. But I would ask this: what is more disconcerting / distracting to a kicker? Calling a timeout so he can think about the kick or forcing him to rush onto the field and kick his longest field goal of the year in the last seconds of a game with time running out on the play-clock? Call me crazy but I prefer the latter if I’m the defending team. The kicker has no time to visualize the kick (not to mention that Feely stated after the game that he was able to measure the kick after his first try went awry), the line has very little time to setup and so many more things can go wrong when a team is rushed. I know that special teams players practice this stuff all the time and are “rushed” onto the field for every try, but this situation presents some extenuating circumstances that a normal try would not.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m making a whole lot out of nothing but to me this is the perfect example of someone who is unable to make a reasoned decision under stressful circumstances and instead falls back into trendy coach mode. It’s a move that reeks of overthinking on its face but is truly the product of underthinking and a lack of preparedness to deal with every situation that may come up.