Postgame Spread
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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

In defense of Schottenheimer    

Looks like San Diego's hanging on to Marty. I was a little puzzled by all the talk of firing -- he did go 14-2 this season with some tough regular season wins, showing he could win close games and mask some holes (inexperience at QB, inconsistent secondary). He was blamed a lot for the loss because: (a) he lost his timeout on an obviously lost challenge, (b) he should have run down more time off the clock, (c) sloppy play goes back to the coach and (d) he has a terrible postseason record even with good teams.

Regarding "a", he lost the timeout, and it cost them. But they still had a shot at a FG at the end, even though they played lousy hurry-up (which seemed like it was just as much Rivers' fault). Also, after the way Polamalu's interception-fumble challenge went last year, throwing the red flag on a prayer doesn't seem like that bad of an idea.

As for "b", the Chargers had the ball and had been running at will all season and all game. I, for one, always find it infuriating when a coach knows that the other coach is expecting run and still lines up for 1-yard gains and losses anyway. I almost always want them to keep going for the first down, expecting that a well-timed play fake can put the game away. Obviously in retrospect, this strategy didn't work here, but I don't think it was a bad idea. I do think that Tomlinson should have gotten more touches (although not necessarily more carries) on the last drive, but understand that the Patriots might have keyed in on him in the same way they would have anticipated the run, and the same arguments about the element of surprise would hold. Moreover, by not running the ball, they managed to get the ball back with enough time to at least set up a FG attempt, so unless you think the Chargers could have just bullied the Patriots run defense (admittedly, as they had for most of the game), they were actually better off, in a way. You could say that it wasn't the final drive that was the problem, that the playcalling in the second half went too far away from Tomlinson and Turner (is it too late to call them T-N-T? Alright, I admit that's pretty bad). However, the Jacksonville game showed that a team relying on production out of only one position wasn't all that a successful second half strategy against the Patriots. And even if that isn't persuasive, I don't see why Cam Cameron, San Diego's O-coordinator who has gotten the lion's share of the praise for the offense's execution, shouldn't at least share in the blame when the team stumbles.

I somewhat agree with "c". A lot of things had to go wrong for them to lose. If he had coached the safety to knock down the ball, kept his players from committing stupid penalties, or took control when Rivers was leading the final drive, they would have had a much better chance to win. However, too many weird things happened for it to be anyone's fault, even the guy who runs the team. How many times do you see teams make those bizarre mistakes? How many times have you seen the Chargers make bizarre mistakes? The kinds of mistakes that teams always seem to make against the Patriots when New England is playing well.

"D" nullifies that argument a little bit; he's had too many playoff collapses with too many good teams for it to be chance. But did the next coach win with those teams? Did the next coach do as well or get as far with those teams? Maybe, I'm not really sure, but it's my impression that the next coach did about as well, maybe slightly worse. Moreover, he's only been in San Diego and they keep getting better every year. Right now, they'd seem to be a contender for the next few years. Why not give him at least one more chance to see if he can get the team to the next round? Why not maintain some stability for a young offense and defense? And if next year is worse, the Chargers have a better rationale to fire him. And some more high profile coaches should be available (Belichick's contract will be up, plenty of coaching changes are speculated for next year), whereas there aren't a whole lot of options right now (Bobby Petrino got a deal?!).

So, kudos to the San Diego Chargers and kudont's to ESPN.

7 Comments:

  • I agree. There are so few teams in the NFL that seem to have their shit together at all, that when a team has a chance to be good for a while, like the Chargers, you gotta keep things as stable as possible (esp. w/ a young QB, as you said), and hope that you catch some breaks and win the big one at some point before the window closes. I feel the same way about the Eagles. Andy Reid may be the worst clock manager in history, and his decision to punt as indefensible as the Chargers' INT/Fumble, but the bottom line is that he's presided over the Eagles' most successful stretch ever, and you gotta ride that wave until it crashes.

    By Blogger Alex, at 10:53 AM  

  • Eh. What are they playing for?

    If they want to win a championship, I'd say fire his ass. He won't ever win one b/c every playoff game the guy ever plays will feature the same point D you brought up which is then magnified as some sort of A,B,C.

    If they want a good regular season record and to sell a TON of jerseys and tickets and that is OK, then keep him. It will be better in the short term and never win shit in the end.

    Also, keep in mind, Tampa won the first year they brought Gruden in so a coaching change does not necessarily mean they can't immediately win.

    By Blogger Kelvin, at 11:26 AM  

  • I agree with Kelvin. Firing Schottenheimer is the higher-risk, higher-reward move. You might get a Gruden in TB situation (though look what Tampa has done since...), or you might get a disaster. Keeping Schottenheimer, you might get a disaster, but there's a better chance you make it back to the playoffs. And with the team the Chargers have, it's possible that one year they won't need smart coaching in the playoffs, they'll just run away with all the games. I don't think that's outside the realm of possibility.

    I also have some issues with the idea that coaches are incapable of learning from their mistakes. I wouldn't bet on Schottenheimer learning from this disaster, but I wouldn't entirely bet against it either. And the team might learn from it without him learning anything at all, at least as far as stupid penalties are concerned. So, this could go either way in my opinion. Although to be clear, I would have fired him--if I had a candidate in mind I thought could do the job better (and if I was any good at my job, I would).

    The Reid thing is similar. I think not going for it on 4th and 15 was stupid. I don't think Reid will learn from it either, because it's par for the course. But I think it's silly to assume he's incapable of learning from it. Moreover, I'm not sure I can agree it was indefensible. With the game on the line, he decided to trust his defense over his offense. This is the Eagles we're talking about here. While this was an extreme and stupid logical extension of team philosophy, this is what they do, and it's why they're good. So I don't think you can say it's indefensible.

    I'll take up this learning from your mistakes thing further in Jeff's thread.

    By Blogger Jesse, at 11:32 AM  

  • Also, Chas I forgot I wanted to say something about one particular point of yours:

    I, for one, always find it infuriating when a coach knows that the other coach is expecting run and still lines up for 1-yard gains and losses anyway. I almost always want them to keep going for the first down, expecting that a well-timed play fake can put the game away. Obviously in retrospect, this strategy didn't work here, but I don't think it was a bad idea.

    This is true in general, but does not apply to this year's Chargers. It's a line of thinking that is about the running game in general and running backs in general. It does not apply to a transcendant talent. When the game starts to get away from you, and you have the best player in the league, you put the ball in the hands of the best player in the league. It's obviously less true in football than it is in basketball (where we don't even have to reach to Jordan...I think Kobe's shot against the Suns last year is a case in point, even if they never should have had the chance for him to make that shot), but it's still true with a player like LT.

    This has nothing to do with coaching by the book or passing when he should have ran. It has to do with trying to absolutely unnecessarily outsmart someone--someone who is clearly smarter than Schottenheimer, incidentally--instead of trusting the best player in football to do what no one all year has been able to stop him from doing whenever he wants. It was idiotic, no matter how much you want coaches in normal situations to mix it up. It's not about coaching or running or passing, it's about Ladanian Tomlinson. You give him the ball. Period.

    But I am willing to call them TnT.

    By Blogger Jesse, at 12:08 PM  

  • Chas, you should take my post's title as an acceptance of T-n-T moniker.

    Anyway, I lost an entire rant response thanks to the magic of cut-and-paste. (You're welcome.) Basic points that I recall:

    1) Andy Reid didn't lose that game. He screwed up a chance to win, but that doesn't mean he orchestrated a devastating loss. This can be said for plenty of coaches who don't quite get it done (Tony Dungy, for example, or pre-2006 Bill Cowher). I do not advocate firing these coaches.

    2) Schottenheimer very, very clearly orchestrated that loss. He made three critical, unforgivable, and entirely unnecessary coaching decisions (the 4th-and-11, the challenge, not giving it to LDT) to go along with his harder-to-quantify failure to keep his players' heads in the game (fumbles, personal fouls, victory dancing prior to the Pats' comeback). He took victory out of his own team's hands and put it on the ground.

    Say what you will about Reid, Dungy et al, but those guys have never turned in as sorry a performance as Marty did. Marty matched their combined playoff coaching goofs in a single game last Sunday. It was atrocious. The firing talk would be a lot sillier if he'd just followed the coaching manual... but he didn't, and in doing so he made his team lose, so I say he's fair game.

    3) If this were the EPL or the World Cup, he'd have been fired, and possibly executed.

    By Blogger Jeff, at 12:35 PM  

  • Personally, I agree with your point about Tomlinson being different; teams have been focused on him all game every game and he still dominates. So it's not the choice that I would have made, and is most likely a case of Schottenheimer outhinking himself, but if he said that the reason he stayed away from Tomlinson is that he thought the Patriots were expecting it and then used that to his advantage (say, some kind of play fake, or the fake-screen-throw-to-the-opposite-side play that the Pats run) I'd say that was a defensible strategy. I'd also say that running some kind of short pass or something to give Tomlinson some sapce would be a lot different than handing it off for 1- or 2-yard dives up the middle, which is what teams usually seem to do when they're trying to kill the clock.

    Also I'll concede the point about Gruden (I totally forgot about him, probably since he was a part of one of the worst Super Bowls I've ever seen), but I'd also like to take Jesse's point about coaches learning one step further. I think Schottenheimer has learned (somewhat) from his mistakes, and opened up the offense a bit. His team still lost, but I think he played it differently than he would have a few years ago. Is finding a way to lose with a great team in a different way progress? Probably not. But I'm not convinced that the Chargers wouldn't win this matchup next year. If he can't get to the AFC championship next year, then I'm wrong and the Chargers can fire him with my full approval (I know that's what they're waiting for).

    As for who they would hire if they fired Schottenheimer, I think that's probably one of the bigger problems. If they want to hire Cam Cameron, then they should fire Marty now or risk losing him to the Dolphins (although Miami seems lukewarm on him). But if you think the offense blew it, why elevate the O-coordinator? Next year, with potential firings, unretirements and contract expirations, they should have a lot more choices (and Schottenheimer should have a lot of choices too, which is why his refusal to accept the extension actually makes a little sense).

    By Blogger chas, at 12:50 PM  

  • I hear you about the play-fake. I think that would have been preferable to what they did run, which was plain-old pass plays. Gotta involve LDT as more than a safety valve there.

    I agree that the offense is more open, and that it's to Marty's credit.

    And the irony of complaining that Schottenheimer wasn't more conservative in the 4th is not lost on me.

    But that's kind of the point, isn't it? It's not a matter of "open" vs. "closed" offense, or "crazy" vs. "conservative." It's a matter of game context. If you run a play based on a philosophy rather than the current game conditions, I think you're asking for it. That's what I saw.

    Case in point: the Pats hadn't stopped Tomlinson all day, even when they knew he was coming (as they did on the previous first down). The chances of getting a couple more yards on second down with a run were very very high, and the chances of converting a 1st are reasonable. And since the Pats hadn't nailed LDT for a loss all day long, we can reliably say that the worst-case scenario of a run stuff is the same as an incompletion: no gain. But the likely scenario on the ground (yardage) is far better than the likely scenario in the air (fuck-up) given what a rotten game Rivers had. There should have been far more confidence in the run based on how the game unfolded.

    So why get cute? Why outsmart a team that did not need to be outsmarted to be beaten? Because Marty would have gotten pummeled if they'd run and been stuffed. That's the most rational scenario. Or he choked. Or Cam "Don't Call Me Cam" Cameron choked. Either way, wrong decision, and not defensible. Passing now is not an appropriate answer to not passing 20 years ago or whatever.

    By Blogger Jeff, at 3:22 PM  

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