NFL Fans, We Need To Talk About Failure
NFL Fans, We Need To Talk About Failure
Here is the reality of professional football. More than any other sport, football offers a greater degree of paths to failure. The nature of a one play at a time sport means that systems, philosophy, play choice, and more can be the difference between winning and losing. Unlike, say, hockey, where the flow of the game generally makes success and failure about players executing better (and maybe the occasional bad line change).
The road to failure is paved like this:
Choose a poor play
Execute a play poorly
Make a baffling individual decision
Be victim of an outstanding individual effort
Football is a funny sport. When your team loses a heartbreaker, blame has to go somewhere. Sometimes the blame goes the correct way but for the wrong reasons. Which is exactly what pundits and fans alike are doing the day after the Chicago Bears gave up a 20-3 lead heading into the 4th quarter against the Green Bay Packers.
Against Green Bay, critics are accusing head coach Matt Nagy of making poor play calls. Many are pointing to Nagy’s 3rd down call with 2:47 left in the game with the Bears on the Green Bay 14. Even though Jordan Howard had been running well and had picked up 11 yards the play before, Nagy dialed up a pass play. The play failed, Chicago settled for a field goal, and Green Bay scored on the subsequent possession to ice it.
Except the call wasn’t poor. The intended receiver was runningback Tarik Cohencoming out of the backfield. That Cohen was schemed up to be matched by GB defensive end Reggie Gilbert is casually dismissed. That Cohen cleanly beat Gilbert on a wheel route is, as well. Instead, critics choose to criticize the play call – which did exactly what it meant to. The issue was execution – Mitchell Trubisky failed to pull the trigger. Instead he turned backside and threw the ball incomplete to Anthony Miller.
Nagy’s play calling in the second half was fairly good. They had eight 3rd down plays of 1-3 yards in the second half. Coaches dream of such short 3rd down plays. Nagy and the Bears put themselves in position all game.
On offense, the Bears failures were execution. To wit:
Up by 10 points, Dion Sims came back to the football on a 3rd and short play, thus putting himself in front of the sticks. The Bears subsequently punted
Up by 3 points, Cody Whitehair nearly sent a snap over Mitchell Trubisky’s head, thus leading to a sack and nearly killing a crucial drive
That same drive, Jordan Howard stepped out of bounds on a 22 yard run this stopping the clock near three minutes.
Mitchell Trubisky went 3-for-9 on the final drive and gave up a sack-fumble, ending the game.
All of these were execution mistakes – not poor play calling.
The Packers, for example, were a victim to outstanding individual effort of one Khalil Mack. Before gassing out in the second half, he repeatedly blew up any kind of protection Green Bay drew up. DeShone Kizer compounded that with some baffling individual decisions.
An example of a poor play call is Atlanta’s OC, Steve Sarkisian, loading up on the goal line against Philadelphia on TNF when three-receiver sets are statistically more advantageous. A baffling individual decision is Josh Allen trying to avoid a sack by running 20 yards in the wrong direction, because that always works (never).
The NFL is a game of cause-and-effect. While the Bears’ offense executed poorly, their defense gave up the game.
That the Bears blew a huge lead would seem to indicate a failure by its defence (it was), but no, it’s been labelled a failure of offense. Because giving up plays of 39, 52, and 75 yards are very clearly a failure of offense (it’s not). This is a failure of execution. That’s on the players, not the coach (unless you feel the players weren’t coached up well enough to execute in the first place, see. 2017 Chicago Bears).
The facts are these: we too often look at failure as a singular, monolithic thing. But it is not. Failure is the end, not the means - what matters most is the means. Or having Aaron Rodgers.