There isn’t a football fan in the world who hasn’t by now heard of Jim Schwartz’ epic, game losing blunder on Thursday. Now, it’s not exactly news that the Lions lose on Thanksgiving, but Thursday’s crusher had to be a new low. To recap, the Texans’ Justin Forsett blasts up the middle for about a 7 yard gain, gets “tackled,” and then springs back to his feet and runs the remaining 73 yards untouched into the endzone for a touchdown, bringing the Texans back to within striking distance. Now, any blind man could see that about 85% of Forsett’s body hit the turf, including at least one of his knees, and a forearm. He should have been ruled down, and it wasn’t close. Who knows if the refs were merely poorly positioned, or incompetent, but they allowed the play to continue. Fortunately for the Lions, all scoring plays are reviewed these days, so the only thing in the world that Schwartz could do to make the score stand was to throw the red challenge flag. Since all scoring plays are reviewed anyhow, you are not allowed to challenge them. So what does he do? Yep, the one thing that could crush his team, though to be fair, they still held the lead at this point. They would also have a chance to win in overtime, but Schwartz ruined that too. More on that in a sec.
I love sidebars, so we’re going to have one here. This rule that forbids throwing the challenge flag on a scoring play, penalizing the offending coach’s team with a 15 yard penalty, I absolutely love. Why? As a Rams fan since the 80s, including the post Superbowl winning Mike Martz era, I can virtually guarantee you that Martz was the inspiration. You see, Martz used to LOVE throwing the challenge flag on plays that had no bearing on the game. If the spot was half a yard off on a play where the Rams got the first down anyway, out comes the challenge flag. All you really accomplish by doing that is embarrassing and thereby pissing off the refs. I would not be the least bit surprised that if some expose came out revealing that in the early 00s when Martz was in charge of the Rams, refs would routinely spot the ball off by half a yard deliberately to get Martz to waste his challenges early in a half so that when it came down to a potentially game changing play in the fourth quarter, he’d be all out them. Anyway, I would also bet that the 15 yard foul for challenging a scoring play is kind of an homage to the refs from the league. A way of saying, yeah, you guys take a beating out there from the players, fans, coaches, media… and you do kind of deserve it because you freaking suck at your jobs… but seeing as we lack options for improvement at this time, we’ll give you this little gift. And it ended up being the ultimate middle finger to Schwartz and the Lions.
Moving on, earlier I mentioned that Schwartz’ incompetence didn’t end there. In fact, I think his gaffe in overtime was even worse. What he did is part of a disturbing trend among NFL coaches in a position to win a game late in the fourth quarter or in overtime. In fact, Houston’s Gary Kubiak was equally guilty of the same crime earlier in overtime, but was much smarter about it for his second crack at it. Back to the Lions, after an interception gave them the ball in Texans territory, they drove to about the 30 yard line. Rather than try to get closer for an easier field goal to win the game, Schwartz was content to run into a ten man front twice, gaining nothing, before attempting a long field goal to win the game on THIRD DOWN!!!
Anyone with a brain can tell you, field goals get more difficult as they get farther away. If your drive stalls and you’re left with a 46 or 47 yarder to win it, fine. Go for it. But if you have a chance to get closer, wouldn’t that be the perfect time for a play action fake? Anything more inventive than a bull rush into a defensive front banking 100% on the fact that you are going to run the ball?
Predictably, Jason Hanson missed the long field goal, as did Shayne Graham for Houston earlier in overtime, as Kubiak made the same mistake, actually losing five yards on three consecutive runs to make matters even worse. The point is this. Matt Stafford had not turned the ball over all game. Wouldn’t you trust him to make a good decision with the game on the line? If you trust him not to throw a pick when you are deep in your own territory, and such a mistake would surely be game ending, wouldn’t you trust him to botch up a pass when you are in position to stick the dagger in?
These guys are not alone though. The Rams’ Jeff Fisher, probably the worst head coach in the league, and one of the worst in history with at least 100 games coached, did the exact same thing last week against the 49rs, with an additional epic moment of idiocy to boot. Trusting Greg Zuerlein’s monster leg to be good from 52 yards, Fisher mailed in the offense and basically ran three concession plays, resulting in negative one yards. Rather than let Sam Bradford try to get a bit closer by running some kind of passing play, after Bradford had been uncharacteristically brilliant all game, he for all intents and purposes settled for a 50+ yard field goal on first down. No worries though, as Young GZ nailed it… unfortunately, with Fisher looking right at it, the play clock expired and GZ’s next attempt from 58 yards was wide right. Fisher has a long history of ineptitude, barely managing a .500 record with a supremely talented Titans team over more than 15 years. How you can you have a track record of accomplishing little when given a lot and be respected as a good coach? Nobody can argue that the Rams have “a lot,” but like many coaches who are criminally overrated, Fisher lacks any ability to adjust when things are not going well as originally planned, arguably the most important skill for a coach to have. For example, he’ll be getting shredded as the Rams did by the Patriots in London a few weeks back, and refuse to budge from his original defensive game plan. Additionally, he will unfailingly see that something is working, such as Steven Jackson gobbling up 6 yards a carry throughout the first half, and then never give him the ball again.
These guys have head coaching jobs!!! Doesn’t that amaze someone other than me?
This is not limited to football, of course. One of my favorite examples is Phil Jackson, even though I hate basketball. But wait, you say? What about his gazillion championships, you say? Look, when you have a team that features (and you can apply this to his Bulls teams as well as his Lakers teams) two or three of the top 20 players that ever played, five or six of the top 100 in history, and round that off with a group of reserves, most of whom had been allstars at some point, isn’t anything less than a championship a complete failure at that point? Take the ’94,’95 season, without Michael Jordan, all he could manage was a .500 record before MJ’s return, despite the presence of the great Scottie Pippen and other good players such as Steve Kerr, BJ Armstrong, Toni Kukoc, Ron Harper and more. My favorite epic failure of Jackson’s to point out is the 2010-2011 conference semis against Dallas. When Dallas began to trounce the Lakers, on their way to a sweep, all Jackson did was sit there like a deer in headlights. Why? He had no answers! The ruse was up. Like he had for an entire career, he banked on an all world line up, this time Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Ron Artest, Andrew Bynum et al, to just win. Triangle Shmiangle. Sure, it can be effective, but when it starts to fail, shouldn’t you be able to make adjustments? When Dallas starts to just overrun you, shouldn’t you be able to tweak the defensive approach? Sure, if you could coach… Jackson has a way of managing egos, but when it comes to actually coaching, he’s useless. It would take me seeing him coach a team that isn’t replete with hall of famers to make me believe it.
Joe Torre is another great example. George Steinbrenner bought all the talent that money could buy, and while the Yanks did end up in the playoffs every year, they won only one more World Series after the threepeat at the end of the 90s. Sure, four World Series titles sounds great… but at the risk of repeating myself, if you are loaded with all of the best players, isn’t anything less than a championship a failure? The truth behind Torre is, he just another clueless guy who lucked into some managerial “success” after a good playing career. Make Derek Jeter the player/manager during this same 15 year period and the Yankees probably win 12 World Series. Tell me I’m wrong! Look at his Dodger tenure after his time with the Yankees, and you will see him for what he is as a manager. A guy who cannot manage a bullpen and can’t get an offense to generate any runs without 7 guys in the lineup who can hit 30+ home runs.
Let’s look at the truth of the matter here. Most guys with coaching or managing jobs aren’t worth salt. They are no different than any Joe Fan. Aren’t real managers and coaches supposed to be able to do more with less? Take Wigan Athletic (English Premier League Soccer… I love that felt compelled to clarify that…) manager Roberto Martinez. Every year, Wigan is tipped for relegation. And really, they should be. Their payroll, and therefore their roster, is meager. They have few fans. Yet somehow, Martinez manages to squeeze the most out of his players every season and avoid the drop. Not only that, his misfit squad is showing signs of possibly contending for a top ten spot this season. Not familiar with soccer? Look at Baltimore Orioles skipper Buck Showalter. Are you telling me that if you saw that roster before last season you would have picked them for a playoff spot? Bob Melvin anyone?
Again, tell me I am wrong.
I have a bunch of San Diego Chargers fans for friends. I know, I know, I am really the moron in that equation. After all, I know this little fact and yet I am still friends with these folks. To a man, they all want Norv Turner fired. Really? The guy who has nearly a 60% win ratio despite not being given much to work with in the post LaDanian Thomlinson era? Maybe AJ Smith is the problem?
And don’t get me started on the media. They are part of the problem too! In fact, let me tell you… dammit, my fiance just shot me a look from the couch that said something like, if you don’t finish that article in a minute, you can take that word that Jack’s wife spelled in that one Jack In The Box commercial where they were playing Scrabble and permanently affix it to our relationship… So… good night.