A Fan’s Notes from the Sixteenth Week of the NFL Regular Season.
The road to the Super Bowl is long, winding through 17 weeks of the regular season (R), and then a narrowed field navigates a month-long playoff tournament. Every team imagines they are on their way to Houston, host to this year’s Super Bowl . . .
The Return of the Repressed (Dinky Toys)
Give Houston Head Coach Bill O’Brien a week to “game-plan” and like an alchemist, he can turn Tom Savage into Brock Osweiler.
He certainly got that outcome in Week 16, when the Texans faced the Cincinnati Bengals in a Christmas Eve game that would likely decide the Texans’ playoff fate. Given a week to game-plan for Savage as starter, here were the results: the quarterback was 18 of 29 passing attempts, for 176 yards (that’s 6.1 yards per attempt). If Savage, or any quarterback, averaged those yardage numbers for the whole season, he would be at the very bottom of the league. While Savage threw no interceptions (a big problem for Osweiler all year), he also threw no touchdowns, and he was sacked four times (which is a
huge problem). The Texans only racked up 250 total yards on offense, and scored but 12 points (below even their bottom-of-the-league average of 17.5). Somehow, they won, and clinched their division title.
A sizable body of Texans fans are fiercely critical of Bill O’Brien’s game-planning and play-calling that result in the Texans’ offense raking 28th in the league in yards per game (316.4) and 29th in scoring (17.5 points per game). They consider his play-calling unimaginative, with too many first-down runs up the middle to little or no effect, getting the offense “off-schedule” from the start. I looked into this charge, and found that 7 of the Texans’ 57 plays on offense were first-down runs up the middle. That’s one-eighth of all their plays, and has to count as a lot. How effective were those 7 plays? Altogether, they gained 21 yards, for an average of 3 yards per play. That’s pretty . . . average, not great but not disastrous. If you get that result every time, you face 2nd and 7 a lot–plenty of plays on the call-sheet for 2nd and 7. Another way to look at it, though, is how many of those 7 plays were successful? If the average was 3 yards per play, and that average was considered acceptable, how did the Texans do at meeting those expectations? Three times, they failed to meet expectations (gains of 0, 0, and 2 yards); twice, they met expectations; and twice they exceeded expectations (gains of 7 and 6 yards). My analysis shows that for a Dinky Toys offense that averaged 4 yards per carry on the ground for the game, the first-down
run up the middle is the perfect Dinky Toys play-call.
I watched the first half of the Detroit at Dallas game last night. It was tied at 21 apiece
when I went to bed at half-time. I was reminded of a scene from the 1954 film classic, The Caine Mutiny. The mediocre officers of the Navy tub the USS Caine have decided to seek the relief of their peculiar new commander, Lieutenant Commander Queeg. In order to pursue this course of action, they have to go aboard an aircraft carrier to meet with a commanding admiral. Once they get aboard the powerful vessel and witness the expert functioning of its crack crew, they chicken out of their task. They realize something to the effect of “wow, this is the real fighting Navy. We don’t really have any business bringing our petty concerns here. Never mind.”
That’s how I felt as a Texans fan watching the Cowboys and Lions easily march up and down the field on scoring drives. This is the real NFL of playoff teams. The Texans struggled to eke out a win scoring 12 points all game against Cincinnati. The Cowboys and the Lions each scored 21 points in the first half, and then the Cowboys did it all over again to win the game handily, 42-21. The Texans are in the playoffs, but their chances of advancing, well, never mind.
The Good News!
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