Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Let's Talk About Football

For those unaware, the Indianapolis Colts, coming into their game two weeks ago against the NY Jets, were 14-0, and looked like they could easily finish the season undefeated and have a legitimate shot to achieve  football immortality by running the table and putting up a perfect 19-0 record.  However, the Colts' goal is not an undefeated season, it's a Super Bowl Title, and having already locked up home field advantage throughout the playoffs, they had nothing to gain, so in an effort to ensure that none of their essential players suffered drastic injuries, Indy pulled their starters in the second half of the Jets game while holding a small lead, and promptly got blown out.

Now, there are arguments to be made on both sides here:  go for the everlasting glory, vs play  it safe and prepare for the playoffs.  I'm torn, because I think that the physical abuse that professional football players withstand is simply remarkable, and I'm shocked that any lineman or running back can ever last a full season when every play involves a gang of very large men falling into your legs or trying to tackle him.  I'm also aware of the legacy of sports records, especially amazing achievements, which a 19-0 season would certainly qualify as, and tend to want to go for it.

One thing is for sure: anyone yelling 4 letter words at  Indy Coach Jim Caldwell for his decision to pull the starters two weeks ago lost a whole lot of their argument's heft when the Patriots' offensive weapon, Wes Welker, went down with what appears to be a torn ACL and MCL in the first quarter of the Pats' game against the Texans last weekend. Welker, untouched, cut with the ball and crumpled in a heap.  It was quickly obvious that he was in serious trouble, and the first thing I did was call my dad and say "Well, I guess Jim Caldwell can tell his critics to "suck it!"   The Patriot's game was not totally meaningless, although they had little to play for - but if something like that had happened to Indy's Reggie Wayne, we can only imagine the crap-storm of second guessing that would have rained down on Caldwell's head.

ESPN's Bill Simmons had a good solution:

"Take it from a Patriots fan: Going 16-0 is overrated. You want to win the Super Bowl. That's all that matters. So it didn't bother me that Indianapolis rested its starters last week against the Jets, even if it nearly caused a riot at Lucas Oil Stadium. What bothered me was Jim Caldwell's lack of imagination.

Now, it's unclear whether Jim Caldwell is even alive. I am assuming he is because I've seen him blink at least five times this season. And because he's alive, that means he made one of the most indefensible coaching blunders of all time: playing his starters for one half, but doing it in the FIRST half. How does that make sense?

Let's think about this logically. Say Caldwell's goal was to keep his starters healthy while also getting them some work. Playing them for one half would accomplish this goal, as we know. So two days before the game, Caldwell makes the following announcement: "I'm playing our backups in the first half. If they can keep it close, then I'll play my starters in the second half."

Now the fans know what to expect, and so do the players. Even better, this happens: The fans go into that game thinking, "We want to stay undefeated, we need to affect this game and help our backups!" And the starters are on the sideline urging them along. Come on, fellas! Keep it close for us! A "Hoosiers"-like atmosphere is spawned. Everyone rallies behind the ragtag underdogs, who end up playing over the heads and keeping it close. At the start of the third quarter, Peyton Manning and the starters jog out with the stadium going bonkers. Would the Jets have had a chance? No way."

CNNSI's Peter King also had some on point comments regarding the fact that the Colts trotted out their starters again this week for some personal milestone statistical records:

"I think if records don't matter much to the Colts, why did Indianapolis play Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark only long enough to get to 100 catches? It's fine that they did; I want a player to want to leave his footprints on NFL history. But to say Reggie Wayne or Dallas Clark catching 100 balls, or to say the record of consecutive regular-season wins by a team, is more significant to a franchise than becoming the first team ever to go 19-0 (and only the second team in modern pro football history to go undefeated for an entire season) is just flat wrong. And that's what the Colts have said.

This is likely my last word on the Colts' decision to bypass the chance to go for the unbeaten season, but I couldn't let president Bill Polian's comments to Rich Eisen on NFL Network the other night pass without a challenge. Polian said the perfect season "we did not feel was a historic achievement.'' But, Polian said, winning more games than any team in a decade, and winning the most consecutive regular-season games are "historical milestones that were worth going out there and risking everything for.''

I categorically disagree those milestone are more significant than 19-0. In my mind, they're not even close. Every football fan knows there's been only one 17-0 team, Miami in 1972, and never a team better than that. No football fan can tell you (with certainty anyway), nor does any football fan care, which team won the most games in the eighties, or nineties. The consecutive regular-season wins are certainly nice, but it's not imprinted on the brain stem of any football fan. Now, 19-0 ... that's immortality right there. And if you don't want to go for it because you don't want to risk injury, please say that. But to say it has no historical significance -- as Jimmy Johnson would say, "Puh-leeeeze.''

I was shocked to see Indy starting its starters again this week (for a few drives) given that it was snowing in Buffalo, which seemed to be guaranteed to carry a higher risk of injury than a dry field.  King's comments nicely summarize the inconsistency in Indy's reasoning.



Andrew said...

How about the impact of this decision on fantasy owners of Manning and Clark (i.e., me)?!?! I lost the title in my league on account of Caldwell. Not cool.

Kid Dynamite said...

ha. i hadn't considered that, Andrew. you knew it was a risk that the players would be benched!

Andrew said...

I thought is was a very low probability event given the prospect of a 19-0 season. Besides, my backup QB was David Garrard!

Anonymous said...

I prefered Jason Whitlock's analysis:

"Going undefeated has never once stopped a team from reaching the Super Bowl.

“The perfect season has never been one of our goals,” Caldwell claimed after the game. “It’s never been anything we focused on or anything we talked about.”

Knocking boots with Beyonce has never been one of my goals, but if presented the opportunity, you best believe I won’t labor through 20 minutes of foreplay and signal for Curtis Painter to finish the job.

There are stated goals and there are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities only fools pass up. You put Beyonce on your resume and it opens unforeseen doors. Tom Brady is married to Gisele because he dated Bridget Moynahan first."

Kid Dynamite said...

great point, Anon, and i agree with you completely... BUT... then there's Wes Welker!

Anonymous said...

I think it's a little spurious to use Welker as an example. Think of all the star players who did play last weekend who didn't get hurt. Then on top of that, Welkers injury was very uncommon, how many players do you hear about (out of the total who play) that hurt themselves without contact? He could of just as easily hurt himself that way in practice.

Anyway, the colts had the opportunity to do something basically no one had done before (given that the reg season is 2 games longer than when the dolphins played). It is the biggest team achievement in my opinion to go undefeated and they dropped the ball. Sure they would have been taking on a little more risk playing the two games properly, but at the same time, the payoff is worth it IMHO. All of a sudden you go from being a team which won the superbowl (I assume) to being in the conversation about being the best team ever. no comparion.

Kid Dynamite said...

yes, and there's also the issue where sometimes resting your starters can result in them looking rusty when they return.

i don't know how anyone can call the Welker example spurious. it's EXACTLY why you can justify resting the players - because a freak injury can happen at any point and end your season. (a la Tom Brady in game 1, 2008).

I was firmly in the "They should go for 19-0" camp, until Welker went down...

also, i think it's absurd that the Colts starters played at all in the final week.

EconomicDisconnect said...

This is a fascinating discussion point.

I would ask if the Colts had a team meeting and the players were asked honestly if they wanted to go for the undefeated mark, or rest up for the playoffs. If the players wanted to go then the Colst move was a mistake. Still after a late season meeting the PAtriots of 07 wanted to go for it and several tough games down the stretch that they did not need may have been the cause of them running out of gas (both the AFC title game and the superbowl).

The Welker loss is a dagger and that knee has been iffy all year. Why the hell was Welker returning punts for weeks on end is my question, not one play in a game that was probably meaningless.

Anonymous said...

I think the Welker example is spurious because I don't feel referencing 1 injury to 1 player out of however many played on the weekend is a fair comparison and really relevant to assessing whether or not Indy should have played their players. A better comparison to make would be "what is the probability, per quarter, that a star player will get seriously injured." Indy would have needed to play (assuming they did win against the jets) an extra 5 quarters to be undefeated right now. I feel the chance of an injury happening to 1 of say 3 or 4 valuable players over 5 quarters is pretty low and given what was at stake, it's worth taking that risk.

Maybe we just disagree on whether the risk is worth the reward but think of all the things that I feel happened because they didn't play them those 5 quarters:
a) the fans are really angry (as evidenced by the booing when Manning was sat), even if they win the superbowl the fans will feel cheated. Chance to win the superbowl as a top seed occurs alot more often than being 14-0 and having the opportunity to go undefeated.
b) It shows the players that the management doesn't have confidence in them.
c) pisses the players off as they had the opportunity to do something very very special. I would be happy to bet you money that in 10-20 years when Peyton Manning writes his autobiography he talks about how he wanted the opportunity to get back in the game. He's already won a superbowl, going undefeated would have given him alot more credibility in the argument of best QB of this generation. He would have done the one thing Brady couldn't.
d) Shows other teams that the colts are scared because they didn't go for it, giving them more hope they can win.
e) as you mentioned, the rust problem as players ease up. Indy already had a bye week locked up.
f) I think it puts the colts in a no win situation in 5-10 years. If an injury did occur and the colts ended up not being undefeated or lose in the playoffs, sure, a few people would have said "shouldn't have played him whenever" But the number of people saying counter to that "they had the chance to be undefeated, so you go for it" would have drowned out their voices. So really no downside for going for it, if anything, if an injury did occur and they got beaten in the playoffs, history would just say they were unlucky. The fact they rested the players now means that if they lose in the playoffs everyone will say "lost focus when they sat their players against the jets" which cost them a game or if they win the superbowl everyone will say "should have played cause of the opportunity they had" So they lose regardless of whether they end up winnning or losing the superbowl.

Overall I guess, I just don't think it was a very smart move :).