The biggest decision made by a coach during Week 4 was covered in the Monday football recap, but there are still plenty of coaching decisions to cover in today's Thank You for Not Coaching. As always, let's start with the bright side of the ledger
The Best Decisions of Week 4
3. Marc Trestman goes for two down 40-22. It's heartening to see a coach properly execute one of the obvious go-for-two scenarios, even as Brian Billick talked over the decision as one that "isn't on the chart." It should be if it isn't. Trestman's decision even took the Lions by surprise, which forced them to burn a timeout to get the right defenders on the field. And, as it turned out, making the correct decision actually did open up a slim window for the Bears that wouldn't have otherwise existed; the Bears made the two-pointer here to make it 40-24, then made it again on the next touchdown drive to produce a 40-32 score, which gave them an opportunity to recover an expected onside kick in an attempt to get one final drive to tie the game. Had they kicked an extra point here, they couldn't have been within one score after that second touchdown and wouldn't have had even an opportunity to tie.
In the NFL, rivalries are fleeting. There are exceptions (Dallas-Washington, Chicago–Green Bay), but stakes, as much as familiarity, are what breed contempt in pro football. If the Redskins are 5-10, no one cares about their Week 17 game in Dallas.
For the past decade, the games we’ve come to anticipate are the games between teams who’ve played often and for something. In the early part of the Manning-Brady era, the Colts and Patriots seemed to play at least once a year (and they still do). At some point, we shifted to the Ravens and Steelers, who spent two games seeing who could be the first team to 17 points and/or turn the other team into dust. Now, the league’s best rivalry resides in the NFC West, and we get our first installment of the season Sunday night.
The All-22 All-Star Team is an attempt to provide some insight on the NFL's 22 most underappreciated players. Some will be All-Pros who haven't fully gotten their due; some will be names few casual fans have ever heard. All will, for one reason or another, have been overlooked.
The phone rang just after 3 a.m. Amy Boone didn’t know who was calling, but she knew why.
A few hours earlier, her son Alex had called from California. It was Super Bowl Sunday 2009, and the former Ohio State tackle was at a party near where he was training for the NFL combine. The night was old enough on the West Coast, and in her son’s voice, Amy could hear the gathering rage that sometimes came with his nights of heavy drinking. His sentences were sharp. His words were curt. He was starting to “sizzle.”
Amy asked to speak with Alex’s agent, a younger man about whom she’d had her reservations. Her son didn’t need another friend. He needed someone to tell him “no.” She asked that he take Alex home, while he might still be able to control her 6-foot-8, 330-pound son.
What's that? You were wondering exactly how many days until the start of the NFL season? Well, you're in luck! We here at the Triangle are providing a daily reason to get excited about pro football's return.
We’re finally here. After 113 days, the NFL kicks off tonight, and what better way to celebrate than by considering what might go horribly, horribly wrong for every single franchise. Every football season comes with the sort of major surprises none of us saw coming, and often, that involves a few teams that run into enough problems to see their entire season torpedoed. Last year, it was the Eagles, who shipped Andy Reid out of town despite nine trips to the playoffs since 2000.
Figuring out which franchises may be willing to blow it all up if things go south is a matter of looking at just how stable its leadership is. In order to take stock of where each NFL team sits, and figure out who’s closest to punching in the launch codes, we’re looking at the head coach and general manager for every franchise, how long they’ve been in place, and what that means for the panic level of both ownership and a team's fan base. (Just a reminder, the lower the DEFCON level, the more on alert everyone should probably be.)
What's that? You were wondering exactly how many days until the start of the NFL season? Well, you're in luck! We here at the Triangle are set to spend the next few weeks providing a daily reason to get excited about pro football's return.
No one should be surprised that NFL front offices are full of men who think they’re the smartest guys in the room. Even if you throw out all the testosterone (which you probably shouldn’t), it’s a league with a fairly even playing field, in which success is built on schematically staying one step ahead of everyone else. It’s also a place where Bill Belichick is the ultimate symbol of success. Egos are encouraged.
What's that? You were wondering exactly how many days until the start of the NFL season? Well, you're in luck! We here at the Triangle are set to spend the next three months providing a daily reason to get excited about pro football's return.
I’ve learned in my two decades of attending professional sporting events that I have a tendency to inflate moments I witness. I’m sure Michael Jordan’s best playoff game wasn’t Game 1 in the first round against the Bullets in 1997, but because it was the first one I’d seen, it feels that way. When it comes to Colin Kaepernick’s performance in last year’s divisional round, which I watched from the Candlestick press box, I’m fairly confident my spot in the building didn’t skew what I saw that day.
The Packers were hapless, yes (hapless enough that they felt compelled to send their defensive coaching staff to Texas A&M to figure out the read option), but Kaepernick was also magnificent on his way to 444 total yards and a 49ers blowout.
With the way Kaepernick played last season, and with San Francisco’s trip to the Super Bowl, it doesn’t feel like the 25-year-old Nevada product has eight fewer starts than Russell Wilson. But he does. Kaepernick is only 10 starts into his career, but already, he feels like one of the more important assets in all of football. This is in part because he’s a high-caliber quarterback with a second-round price tag. But he already deserves evaluation independent of finances. His peers voted him the 81st-best player in a poll of players by the NFL Network. Let’s reiterate — that's based on six fewer starts than Ryan Tannehill has.
For the most part, the 49ers are positioned to continue the offensive success they enjoyed during Kaepernick’s limited stretch. Without Michael Crabtree, who played at a Pro Bowl level with Kaepernick under center, San Francisco’s passing game will likely hit some snags, but there are still plenty of pieces to fill out the 49ers offense. Kaepernick will be without his no. 1 target, but to go along with Anquan Boldin (who, the Niners are all too aware, has a little something left), Kaepernick still has the league’s best offensive line, one of its best tight ends, and a bevy of recently drafted weapons that are more likely to come into play this season.
Kaepernick’s performances following the win over Green Bay didn’t quite compare, but there was still something to watching him chew up yards and generally dominate on a postseason stage. He’s capable of plays only Robert Griffin III can match, and the idea of seeing it over a 16-game season should be enough to have anyone outside of Seattle looking forward to Sundays. There’s a chance those 10 games were the exception, but an offseason of Kaepernick taking reps as the starter and the Niners staff formulating game plans with him as the centerpiece should continue his success. Colin Kaepernick is likely here for the long haul, and by the end of this year, my guess is that we’ll all very used to it.
The NFL offseason is fundamentally about one thing: hope. The mantra of "Any Given Sunday" is expanded to "Any Given Season," and the new — new rookies, new facilities, new schemes, new management — is the stuff those dreams are made of. But the most powerful offseason story lines, both in depth and on-field potential, are ones of redemption. Alex Smith's impending trade to the Kansas City Chiefs to play for Andy Reid offers that chance for both men.
Smith's story is, by now, well known. A former no. 1 overall pick by the 49ers, he, like the rest of the organization, stumbled around for several years until Jim Harbaugh became the head coach before the 2011 season. That year, Smith flourished in a game-manager role as the 49ers won 13 games and were a few special teams miscues away from playing in the Super Bowl. In 2012, Smith was better in almost every statistical category — completion percentage, yards per pass attempt, an impressive 104.1 passer rating — until he got hurt … and never regained his job, as the young, fleet-footed, strong-armed Colin Kaepernick took over and led the team to the Super Bowl.
Smith isn't yet 30, and a marriage with new Chiefs coach Andy Reid's offense seems — on the surface, at least — like it has the potential for sustained success. Reid is a stalwart of the old West Coast offense, the one developed by Bill Walsh and then carried throughout the NFL by protégés like Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan, and, of course, Reid, who spent the last 14 seasons as head coach of the Eagles. Smith seems like the model West Coast offense quarterback — smart, accurate on underneath throws, with good feet and quickness. The scouting report on Smith sounds a lot like one for another great West Coast offense quarterback — Joe Montana.
It’s here. Super Bowl XLVII. The biggest betting day of the year. Hundreds of propositions available to wager on. It’s very sad that my wife getting a Valentine’s Day gift is completely dependent upon what color Gatorade is poured on the winning Harbaugh’s head.
But I’m not too worried, as I’ve been on a Rain Man–esque gambling roll lately. I crushed my theoretical bookie on championship weekend, amassing 472,000 jermajesties* — taking my season-long total to a whopping (and I mean a short, pudgy Italian whopping) 612,500 jermajesties overall. Still a bit shy of our goal of 1 million jermajesties, but that’s what Super Bowl Sunday is for. Follow my lead and let’s go to Disney World together.
(*Obligatory weekly explanation: A “jermajesty” represents the fake name given for a dollar amount in this blog. It’s also the unfortunate name of one of Jermaine Jackson’s sons.)
"The running game in pro football has gotten so boring," former 49ers coach Bill Walsh remarked some years ago. "There's just four or five plays they can run. I think the whole thing is headed in the wrong direction, and it's really unfortunate." Even after his passing in 2007, Walsh’s observation had held true for some time. That is, until now. And fittingly, it's the 49ers leading the way.
The Pistol read option plays aside (we’ll get to those), the 49ers' multifarious running game uses many of the same blocking schemes Walsh taught for nearly four decades. Jim Harbaugh deserves much of the credit — the vision for these 49ers is certainly his — but the mastermind behind the 49ers' weekly game plans and the coach who deserves credit for taking Walsh’s criticism to heart is San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
Grantland's Rembert Browne is in New Orleans for Super Bowl week, and he has some very specific goals in mind: (1) to chronicle everything seen, heard, tasted, smelled, and felt — emotionally, (2) to wake up first and fall asleep last, (3) to make his way into events he has no business attending, and (4) to somehow talk to Beyoncé. We don't exactly know where he'll be at any given time, but we've asked for at least two dispatches a day, if for no other reason than to know he's still alive.
Tuesday, January 29. 3:15 p.m. CST. Approximately 124 hours until Beyoncé.
The Scene: Super Bowl Media Day. Immediate Reaction: A zoo, but between the media and the athletes in attendance, it was unclear who were the spectators and who were the animals.
The Rules: Each team enters the arena for about an hour, with the more prominent players and coaches having personalized booths set up to sit and field questions, with the rest of the lot roaming the grounds, doing whatever they please, until someone stops them and asks to talk.
In case you were out brainstorming baby names with Shakira and Gerard Pique last night, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
American teenager Sloane Stephens upset Serena Williams at the Australian Open in an exhilarating, injury-plagued three-set thriller, 3-6, 7-5, 6-4. As the final shot was struck just before the clock struck midnight in New York, a hirsute figure scaled the walls of Arthur Ashe Stadium at the USTA National Tennis Center. "American tennis is dead! Long live American Tennis! American Tennis is dead! Long live American Tennis!" Was the figure that of Pete Sampras? Was it? Who could possibly know? (It was.)