Second Guesses 'R Us: Coach Class

I'm test driving a concept for a week-in-review column that focuses on the men who wear the headsets in the NFL.

This Seahawks’ season-opener was the first time since 2008 that the Seahawks played a game that I was not responsible for attending, covering or in some way reacting to.

I spent that weekend painting my house (a shade of green dubbed “chardonnay bottle” if you must know) while the Seahawks played on Sunday in Tampa Bay, a game that Seneca Wallace started because Matt Hasselbeck was injured. That game had the notoriety of being the lowest rated Sunday night game since the property shifted to NBC, and for that reason I think the Seahawks were kept out of prime time for the next two seasons.

So how did I commemorate not having an occupational responsibility to cover the Seahawks in Sunday’s season-opener? By writing a free newsletter of course!

I’m going to try something a little different today: I’m test-driving a concept that focuses on the league’s coaches. I’d be interested in knowing which of the different items in the column you like, which you don’t and even better if you had any suggestions on things to add. That’s right, I’m going to use you because while I may not be charging for this newsletter, that doesn’t mean it won’t cost you in other ways.

Seriously, thanks for reading and I’d appreciate any feedback you have!

Did Pete Carroll waste a timeout?

Yes. Yes he did. Midway through the third quarter, the Colts lined up to punt after Carson Wentz was sacked by Benson Mayowa. Both teams were set when Carroll came running onto the field to call timeout. The Colts were at their own 7, facing fourth-and-18. The prospect of a fake seemed impossible yet Carroll saw something he didn’t like and called timeout to make sure his team was ready. And when the Colts did punt it? It was fair caught by Seattle receiver Freddie Swain.

Has Urban Meyer quit yet?

Nope. Not quite yet, but there was a report from long-time NFL reporter Jason La Canfora that Meyer was losing his temper as early as August, implying uncertainty about the employment status of guys he brought in to Jacksonville and just generally being bothered by preseason losses. Uh, Urbie? You can’t be sweating those losses that don’t matter because your Jags team is going to be suffering a whole lot of losses in games that do matter this season starting with the opener against the Houston Texans on Sunday. Yep. The Jags got whupped 37-21 by a Houston franchise that is widely considered to be the most dysfunctional in the league at present, paying quarterback Deshaun Watson even as they plan not to play him.

This week’s “Harry High School Special”

Miami at New England. The Dolphins had first-and-10 at the Patriots 28 with more than 90 seconds left in the first half and all of their timeouts. The Dolphins had a comically inept sequence that resulted in one penalty, a 10-second run-off, a sack and just one (1!) throw into the end zone before settling for a 48-yard field goal on the final play of the half.

The actual set-up started with the Dolphins facing third-and-1 with 1:45 left in the half. The clock was stopped because the Patriots called timeout. Miami inserted Jacoby Brissett into the game to run a quarterback sneak. OK, understandable. Maybe Brissett is better at the mechanics of a sneak or perhaps Miami would rather he take the punishment entailed in that play. It worked, the Dolphins gained 2 yards and had first-and-10 at the New England 28. But Brissett (strangely) stayed in the game, Tua Tagovioloa on the sidelines. Brissett lined the team up then let the clock roll down past a minute. Again, understandable. Miami wanted to force the Patriots to a) burn a timeout or b) lose clock. Both options would compromise New England’s ability to score again in the half. Except Brissett let the play clock run all the way down to 1 second before standing up to call timeout but only after a Miami lineman flinched, drawing a penalty. This cost Miami 5 yards and the Dolphins chose to run 10 seconds off the clock instead of using a timeout.

That made it first-and-15 with 39 seconds left. Tagovioloa returned to the field and threw a short pass to running back Myles Gaskin who gained 10 yards and went out of bounds to stop the clock. OK. That’s good. Second-and-5, Tagovioloa threw to Albert Wilson in the end zone. Wilson appeared to be open, but New England cornerback Patriots Jalen Mills closed quickly and deflected the pass. One more shot, and on this play, Tagovioloa was sacked. Miami took a timeout and settled for a 48-yard field goal. It wasn’t a worst-case scenario but it certainly wasn’t good. Miami was primed to get multiple chances at the end zone and it had only one play that would have gained even a first down let alone a touchdown.

The most annoying bromance

If Week 1 was any indication, every Rams game is going to include long weapy soliloquies about how super in-sync coach Sean McVay is with quarterback Matthew Stafford, how super smart they both are and the fact that their amazing recall is going to be the foundation of something truly special. Here’s a sample from Chris Collinsworth in the fourth quarter of Los Angeles’s victory over Chicago on “Sunday Night Football.”

“It really is quite a partnership,” Collinsworth said, “and you kind of get the feeling it’s just getting starting because of the recollection that those two guys have. Matthew Stafford, Sean McVay, the rolodex of information that they can pass back and forth and because Stafford has that same kind of memory he can actually take it out to the field and take care of it at the line of scrimmage.”

Apparently, they do both have super freaky recall as Seth Wickersham detailed at ESPN.com. It’s also an opportunity to take indirect shots at the mental acuity of Stafford’s predecessor in Los Angeles.

“No more of the stuff with Jared Goff,” Collinsworth continued. “Remember his rookie year, 15 seconds, calling the late signal and do all of that. Now it’s just up to Stafford.”

There’s a little bit to unpack here. First of all, Goff played his rookie year under Jeff Fisher so Collinsworth is off there. McVay arrived Goff’s second season. The mention of 15 seconds refers to when the coach-to-quarterback headset communication cuts off, which occurs when there are 15 seconds left on the play clock. The implication here is that Goff needed McVay’s voice in his ear to understand what was happening, and that once the communication cut off and the quarterback was on his own, it was a problem.

Now, play-by-play announcer Al Michaels picked up the conversation: “Goff got off to a great start when he became the starter and took them to a Super Bowl a couple of years ago. The bloom came off the rose a little bit. There’s no question about that.”

Time for Goff to catch a few more strays.

“The one thing the Rams say about that is you have to give Goff credit,” Collinsworth said, “because he made our organization something that a Matthew Stafford would want to come play with us. So we really appreciate what he helped us build here and now they’re hoping Stafford takes it to the next level and if tonight’s any indication, he already has.”

OK, first of all that was just mean what Collinsworth said about Goff. Secondly, for all the time spent talking about the Vulcan mind meld between Stafford and his new coach, does that really explain why the Bears repeatedly blew coverages? Because I’m not sure that your opponents being stupid means that the coach and the quarterback were super smart.

The verdict is: goofy!

Joe Judge isn’t a coach so much as a character type.

A cliché in a crew cut whose entire presence seems to revolve around tough-guy talk about discipline, toughness and accountability. He used a hose to soak the field during a training-camp drill last year to practice recovering loose balls. This year, he had players -- even coaches -- run laps for miscues. He is the embodiment of Football Guy, who thinks there’s nothing wrong with a team that a good butt chewing can’t fix, and after Sunday’s loss to the Denver Broncos, Judge had a very Football Guy answer when asked about the fact that fans left the stadium with 6 minutes left:

“We’ve got to earn the fans’ respect,” Judge said. “Point blank. These people come out here, they spend their hard-earned money, they sit in the seats, they cheer for us. They give us energy within the seats. We have to give them something to cheer about. It’s not just their job to show up and cheer just to cheer, OK? That’s not their job. Their job is to be entertained. They buy a ticket, that means they buy the right to cheer, boo, stay, leave, whatever they want to do. We’ve got to give them something to stay for. We have to give them something to cheer for. That’s on us as a team, we’ve got to do a better job of that. I appreciate the fans, what they did. I look forward to seeing them in a few weeks, and look our focus is to make sure next time they come, they see a better product and they stay a full 60 minutes to watch it.”

This sort of answer plays really well with a very specific and sizeable segment of football fans. But I think these are exactly the sort of things that sound good and don’t amount to anything. I don’t think those things have anything to do with actually winning a football game. If anything, I think they can get in the way of it.

Exhibit A: Judge’s decision on Sunday to throw a challenge flag, seeking a replay review of a fourth-and-1 play in which tight end Albert Okwuegbunam scored midway through the third quarter. Except scoring plays are automatically reviewed, and throwing a challenge flag resulted in the Giants losing a timeout.

“I knew it couldn’t have been a challenge play,” Judge said. “I fully take awareness of that and ownership of that. I told the team that was something, that you know, obviously I can’t do again and waste a timeout.”

So why’d he do it?

“I was looking for feedback from the officials,” Judge said. “It looked to me on the jumbotron – and some feedback I got from up top watching replay – that he (Okwuegbunam) may have stepped in the white. I was screaming for the officials. They’re supposed to get some feedback from what they’re hearing in New York in terms of feedback on it. I had to do something to draw their attention. I couldn’t get them turned around so I threw the flag.”

Sounds like it was kind of a tantrum. He needed to make sure someone listened to him.

“Guys to be honest with you, I had to get somebody’s attention at some point,” Judge said, “and see if we can make sure that they were looking at the same things we’re looking at.”

So did the guy step out like you believed he did?

“I can’t tell you whether it was good or not,” Judge said. “Obviously, they ruled it was good. I’ll go and trust what their opinion was on that. They have good views of it as well. That was more something right there I was just trying to get their attention, and I was looking for feedback which we’re supposed to get from the officials on the field.”

So to summarize, Football Guy knew he couldn’t challenge the play, but was so adamant about making sure the officials took another look that he threw a challenge flag, knowing that it would cost his team a timeout. Football Guy even apologized to his team for wasting a timeout, and as much as Football Guy felt in the moment he needed to make sure the officials took another look yet after the game he hasn’t seen enough to say whether he felt the officials erred and should have overturned the call. That’s not exactly the kind of critical thinking I’d be hoping for from my head coach, but to each his own.

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