Wednesday, March 24, 2010

NFL Coaches Angered By New Rule That Forces Them to Think

One of the common complaints about NFL football has nothing to do with the quality of the athletes taking part. Everyone agrees NFL players are the best in the business, elite athletes who are conditioned to newer heights seemingly every year. They are obviously at the top of their profession.

However, fans who prefer college football typically cite the cookie-cutter nature of NFL games. The similarity of schemes and philosophies comes up often, as does the relative conservatism of most coaches. It takes big-time grapefruits to make the decisions that drive NFL teams, but yet NFL coaches often seem frozen by the moment and incapable of thinking outside a three-by-seven box.

One of the exceptions to this rule seems to be New Orleans coach Sean Payton. He runs a pretty aggressive ship with the Saints, expecting his guys to be on top of every situation. His offense is not at all conservative, even at times when you could argue it is the right call. He gave defensive coordinator Gregg Williams free reign last year, and Williams used it to develop one of the best blitzing defenses in the league.

It's this swashbuckling, risk-taking reputation that makes many wonder exactly why Payton is so mad about the new overtime rules passed by NFL owners Tuesday. The rules, and the potential strategic decisions they could help lead to, seem right up Payton's alley.

But instead of embracing the new rules, Payton seems content to piss and moan about them, as noted by PFT king Mike Florio, who caught Payton's appearance with Peter King on Sirius NFL Radio.

Payton said he's "not a big fan" of the new rule, complaining that he's "gonna have to spend a half an hour explaining it to my wife or any fan."

For those who want to know the rule, here it is, straight from the NFL.

Starting next season, if a team wins the coin toss and then kicks a field goal, the other team gets the ball. If the game becomes tied again after that next series, play will continue under the current sudden-death rules.

Should the team winning the toss immediately score a touchdown, then the game is over.

There are nuances.

A safety would end the game immediately, because the team that got the ball first had a chance to score and failed. On a safety, they'd have to kick the ball away, meaning there is no way they could win the game. Seems kind of dumb if you don't think about it, but when you actually use your brain and think it over, it makes perfect sense.

If a team recovers an onside kick on the opening kickoff of overtime, then advances the ball and kicks a field goal, the game is over. This seems a bit fishier, but the receiving team had a chance to get the ball and failed. The same result (game over) happens if a team takes the opening kickoff of overtime, goes down the field, kicks a field goal, and then successfully executes an onside kick.

You can imagine the possibilities from a strategic standpoint. Of course, most NFL coaches will look at these rules, decide that nothing is worth the risk, and just kick the ball away, hoping for a defensive stop at some point.

However, there is a minority of coaches in the league, including Payton, who have shown the willingness to take risks with their play-calling. For those coaches, this seems to be a great opportunity to think outside the box and develop different strategies for overtime, rather than just "hope and prayer" for the coin toss.

Instead of embracing that opportunity, Payton decided to bitch about the changes. Yes, it sucks that the owners stuck the coaches in a golf tournament and then ran into a room to vote on the rule without anyone knowing about it first. But that's their right. The coaches didn't get a vote, anyway, and since they knew the vote was coming (scheduled for the next day), they should have made their thoughts known to their bosses ahead of time.

If this was done, they have nothing to complain about. Owners made their minds up, voted as they saw fit, and enacted a rule that makes some degree of sense. Next step is doing it for the regular season, something all sides should be in favor of. After all, if you're going to open up a bunch of strategic possibilities, it makes sense to let coaches try ideas out in regular season games, rather than having them use playoff games as the guinea pig on the rule.

These coaches make millions of dollars per season. Some of them make upwards of $7 million, or as much (if not more) than the most important players on their team. No one is begrudging them, as they work absolutely insane hours and drive themselves batty with film study and game-planning. However, the whining after being told they may have to think more during games is a little silly.

We're not re-inventing the wheel here. We're trying to figure out a better way to decide football games, rather than the "Get three first downs and kick a field goal" way of the past.

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