This was a very odd game — with a very dramatic finish.
Early in Sunday's Super Bowl, the New York Giants — aided by New England quarterback Tom Brady's safety — looked unstoppable. The Giants had a huge advantage in both momentum and yards, but despite all this, they only scored nine points. Then Tom Brady and the Patriots became, well, Tom Brady and the Patriots.
Brady went 16-for-16 with two touchdown passes sandwiched around the halftime show, and New England looked like it might simply run away with the game. And then I'm not even sure.
The Giants kicked a couple field goals, Brady roughed his shoulder up on the turf, and then — with about four minutes left in the game — the Patriots had one of the most heartbreaking sequences in franchise history: Brady and Wes Welker, who know a thing about throwing and catching, failed to connect on a throw up the seam, where Welker was essentially uncovered. Then New York quarterback Eli Manning hit Mario Manningham on a nearly impossible throw down the sideline for a huge 38-yard gain. By now, you know the rest. The Giants scored the game-winning touchdown after Patriots coach Bill Belichick smartly let them, and Brady failed to make good on his desperation drive with a late Hail Mary. Giants win, 21-17.
Let's compare those two game-changing pass plays: the failed pass from Brady to Welker and the play of the game, Manning's fantastic throw to Manningham down the sideline.
Play calling, as a general matter, is overrated. After a loss, most sports radio call-in shows are primarily dedicated to the play calling of the offensive and defensive coordinators. For whatever reason — be it the uniquity of football video games like Madden, or just human nature — to use perfect hindsight to question a decision that was reasonable at the time it was made, the message is clear: Every fan is far superior at calling plays to the people whose job it is to do it every weekend. The reality is that play calling is just one part of the fuller puzzle, and far more important is the amount of preparation that went into the game plan as a whole — i.e., how the plays fit together — and how efficiently they were practiced so that they can be executed correctly. Because a well-organized, coherent, and systematic game plan that the players can execute will practically call itself; and no "great play caller" is worth anything without the countless hours of preparation that go into the few brief moments of actual game time. Indeed, as San Francisco 49ers legend Bill Walsh taught us, the best play callers do their play calling through preparation during the week, not so much on game day as emotions soar. In other words, play calling is rarely the difference between a win and a loss.
It was ferocious, it was kind of ugly, it was kinda, sorta, what we expected? Well, we expected a hard-fought game dominated by the defenses, but I'm not sure anyone expected LSU's offense, which had helped the team score 53, 41, and 42 in its last three games (each against SEC opponents), to simply liquefy under the heat of Nick Saban's defense. If there was a decisive factor in the game, it's arguable that it was the ineptness of LSU's offense more than anything else.
In their first pod of 2012, the Solid Verbal guys talk to Chris Brown, the brain behind Grantland's "Draw It Up" posts as well as SmartFootball.com. Ty Hildenbrandt, Dan Rubenstein, and Brown review the evolution of Michigan's offense under Brady Hoke, the foundation for all Nick Saban defenses, the up-tempo attack of Chad Morris at Clemson, and the fatal flaw of Notre Dame in 2011.
Plus, with the biggest bowl games upon us, Brown helps break down the differences in the offensive attacks of Stanford and Oklahoma State, and the similarities between Wisconsin and Oregon, and he discusses how college offenses have the potential to change the professional game.
When you watch Army and Navy play, you know there's going to be option football — and tons of it.
Not the diluted "read offense" the Denver Broncos are now running that the commentariat insist on calling an "option offense,” or even the far more coherent (but still different) spread-and-read-to-run offenses of teams like Oregon. No, Army and Navy — along with Air Force and Georgia Tech — run the real deal. Specifically, those teams use the "flexbone" offense, which actually grew out of the pass-first run and shoot, but evolved into the premiere run-first offense in the country. Indeed, those four teams — the three service academies and Georgia Tech, which is led by former Navy coach Paul Johnson — were the top four rushing teams in college football.
Whether LSU's 9-6 overtime victory over Alabama on Saturday night qualified as the "Game of the Century" is very much in the eye of the beholder, but what is certain is that the game was intense, physical, and the stakes couldn't have been any higher. And it is true that the quarterback play in the game was hardly one for the record books, though the defenses on the field had more than a little something to do with that. Indeed, the Tigers managed to win the game despite recording only 239 yards of total offense. LSU even benched starting quarterback Jarrett Lee in favor of Jordan Jefferson, after Lee threw two costly interceptions. But the change was as much about the Alabama defense as it was about Lee's play. LSU's preferred method of attack is to use pro-style power plays from traditional formations. But Alabama, which already has a magnificent set of front seven defenders, stacked the box, leaving little running room. If the defense is going to play numbers against your running game, it really leaves you two options: Either you throw the ball to get them to back out of it, or you use the quarterback in the run game. This evens out the numbers, as your quarterback can "block" a defender by being a run threat. Football is governed as much by arithmetic as it is by physics.
It sure wasn't a pretty game, but no one can say it wasn't hard-fought. The once left-for-dead Kansas City Chiefs beat the San Diego Chargers 23-20 in overtime in a weird and sloppy contest on Monday night. Each team managed to turn over the ball four times — most crucially by the Chargers on a fumbled snap that denied them the chance to kick a potential game-winning field goal. But not all the fireworks were defensive.
With inconsistency and injury all around the offense, the Chiefs have increasingly turned to Jackie Battle, a running back who rushed for 70 yards against the Chargers. Battle's key run play Monday — an 18-yarder that set up a short rushing touchdown — came on one of the oldest and most famous running plays in football — the "counter trey."