Early 2010 Football Impressions

I was about to send this as an e-mail to fellow fans, but instead, it grew to extended stream-of-consciousness dimensions worthy of a BLOG entry. So here goes.

Now that we’re a little way into football season, some thoughts on favorite college and pro squads from an ignorant fan who doesn’t have access to the locker rooms and strategy meetings, and whose football experience is limited to the ragamuffin youth leagues of East Dallas, every single Cowboys game watched since sometime late in the 1976 season, and almost every OU game from the 1984 blind-ref bowl in Dallas onward.

OU should be 2-1 now, maybe 1-2 with losses to unranked teams, but somehow finds itself undefeated. This is a lucky gift, and they can and should take advantage. But first, this sieve of a defense needs to be straightened up, or it will be lit up in every game save Iowa State.

The simple purpose of a defense in football is twofold — no matter what offense it runs — in this order of importance:
1. Stop the other team from scoring, and
2. Minimize their yardage, so its own offense can get the ball back in good field position to score.

Forcing turnovers accomplish both at the same time (a problem my pro team, the Dallas Cowboys, is having, in addition to its numerous coaching-related mental errors..more on that later).
Again, I emphasize: the defense needs to stop the other team, no matter what offense it runs. The best defenses at their level — whether college or pro — take pride in shutting down opposing offenses of all kinds, and then go out and do it. So what if they’re an option offense, or some exotic, unfamiliar spread?

This is why I simply do not buy the lame reasoning by Brent Vulnerables (the name of the character he is playing as a defensive coach, not as a person…he is a good upstanding guy) to “burn the game film” and forget the Air Force game ever happened. It send the wrong message to young, impressionable college men, which is this: You can play like garbage, give up great gobs of yards and multiple touchdowns, and it’s OK. It’s just a gimmick offense. Don’t worry, be happy. No need to be accountable! [Hmm…this sounds somewhat like a certain Cupcake I know about…more later.]

It’s telling that, even with over a month to prepare, recent Brent Vulnerables defenses with great athletes got shredded by the “gimmick” offenses of West Virginia, BYU and Boise State. Yeah, they sometimes dominate…sometimes, as against the Okie Pokies at the end of last season, and in the low-scoring loss to Nebraska. That they do play so well occasionally, only tells me the potential is there for shutdown defense, and the coaching (not the talent) is the difference.

This quote from Vulnerables is telling also: “We tried to explain to everybody they’re going to get their yards, they’re going to possess the football.” Like hell they will, if you coach ’em up to the task and scheme it right.

Don’t tell those boys what they can’t do, insist that they can, and insist that they do! How an alignment designed to counteract spread-passing offenses, can be put to good use against a triple-option running attack was beyond me, even before the game. It especially is now. And for Bob Stoops to come out before the game and say he feared the opponent’s offense…that’s just irresponsible. Can you imagine that from Jimmy Johnson’s Miami Hurricanes, or even Barry Switzer’s Sooners? Let’s have some of that intimidating, impose-our-will approach on the field, without the off-field crimes of course. It’s how so many opponents lost to those teams before even setting foot on the field.

Brent Vulnerables: You’re not doing your job! Wake up, stop making excuses, and coach. Bob Stoops: You’re a defensive guy from way back. Do the same! Solution: Coach the defense to shut their butts down and not give even an inch, and show them exactly how. That’s what the Miami Hurricanes of the mid-late 1980s did, when preparing to face an equally unfamiliar triple-option attack of OU that was decidedly bigger, faster and more talented comnpared to its competition than that of Air Force today. You can claim Miami was also more talented on defense than OU is now, with all the pros it produced. That is arguable…but at best, the relative skill differential is a wash, and my principle still applies.

Did Jimmy Johnson and Dave Wannstedt essentially throw in the towel by predestining their defense in public to give up yards and possession time? No! They psyched their defense up to an attitude of domination and intimidation, and gave them the tools, in the form of preparation and repetition in practice. It worked, unfortunately for me as an OU fan. The ‘Canes (my second-favorite college team) beat OU (my favorite) three straight times in some epic battles.

A road trip to Cincy will test the ability to play outside Owen Field, which Landry Jones in particular needs to prove. The following week in Dallas, OUr best hope is that the Whorns have looked uncharacteristically mediocre on offense against weaker opponents. Defensively they are very solid, which (given OU’s talented but inconsistent and jittery quarterback) makes me think OU will have to counter every Landry Jones interception with a turnover of their own to win.

Even if they somehow come out of that game with a win, OU does not appear championship-caliber this year. They should, however, have a solid, 1-2 loss season most teams’ fans would/should appreciate, and go to a good bowl. I’m cautiously optimistic about OU, even if they lose 2-3 games. Most of the players return next year, with more experience and a deeper roster of highly-recruited depth at least as talented as the starters (but of course lacking the game experience).

As for my take on the Dallas Cowboys: they’re cooked…done, the season blown to shreds by inept, Keystone Kops execution and confusion on the field. With the toughest teams still filling up the rest of the schedule, they’ve lost two games to mediocre opponents of inferior talent by means of some of the most astounding brain-farts imaginable on a football field. The responsibility for that lies squarely on the coaching staff. My initial prediction of 11-5 became 9-7, which might still be good enough to win the division. But I’m starting to doubt that even .500 is possible. In fact, there is no way this team even has a flyspeck-tiny chance at the playoffs anymore, without a quick, major and abrupt attitude adjustment in the front office as well as in the players.

Consider a meddlesome, disruptive owner/GM in Jerry Jones, the mere presence of Coach Cupcake at the nominal helm, the offensive coordinator whose scheming and playcalling inpetitude belies his Princeton-educated intellect, and a bunch of unfocused players who seem to be on their own as far as discipline and preparedness. Terence Newman is just trying to cover for the Cupcake and the rest of the staff of Jerry’s sycophants; the fact is, practice is supposed to be overseen by the coaches, an oversight clearly missing. Therefore, you get what you got: playing just below the level of each opponent. I expect nothing different this Sunday. The Toxins, finally and amazingly, are a really good team. 0-3 is staring us in the face, even if DeMarcus Ware unleashes his typical fusillade of sacks, hurries and smackdowns on Schaub. Too much else is wrong. What will be the consequences?

For all the accolades Phillips gets as a defensive coach, some of which is deserved, why aren’t they forcing turnovers? A strong pass rush (which they definitely have) is supposed to lead to mistakes (turnovers) by offenses. It ain’t happening. That time-proven rule is being violated egregiously on this team, and I don’t know how.

Individually, only three players stand out as clearly playing to their ability: D-Ware (what a beast…wish we could clone his approach and infuse it in the others), Miles Austin (over 300 yards in two games) and the raw but clearly gifted Dez Bryant (making the most of just a few opportunities with great hands, footwork and intensity…even without the 88, already looks like a physical duplicate of Michael Irvin).

Tony Romo hasn’t been too bad, either, behind a very shaky and untrustworthy line, and despite the tendency of some fans to blame him way too much. Look, he ain’t Aikman or Staubach, but the list is long of QBs with equal or lesser skills who played in a Super Bowl. He has made a few “what the hell was that?” plays, both good and bad, which we expect. He does have room for improvement, for sure, and seems to have matured into an attitude to make it happen. I won’t put him as either a big plus or minus so far. Same for Anthony Spencer, who still is a little too inconsistent (dominates at times, vanishes others). But the rest of them just stink out there. Most disappointing for me has been Jason Witten, who uncharacteristically has several key drops and missed blocking assignments, and Felix Jones, who just seems to be a dim bulb intellectually, and somehow unable to use his great athletic ability. The offensive line’s woes are well-known. If coaching is team’s big ill, the line is the main secondary infection.

My advice for Jerry, not the he gives a crap: I wouldn’t normally advocate this, but since the season is going around the bowl and down the hole anyway, perhaps a loss to the Toxins will be a form of mercy killing, or bloodletting, and force needed changes in the bye week. Boot the son of a Bum. Bring in Bill Cowher, immediately after the somber but mercifully short plane ride back from Houstink. He is the personification of NFL coaching credibility, knows the 3-4 defense as well as anybody, has a fiery attitude sorely needed there, and most certainly will enforce accountability in practice and on the field. Then back off of him and let him work, as you did with the Tuna. Stay off the sidelines. Allow him to settle in and shake off rust with real-game experience in what is becoming a lost season, so he can evaluate talent and go right to work this offseason. The defensive personnel won’t need to be retooled much, just the attitude. Go get a kicker — any kicker — for field goals (he can’t be any worse), and save Beuhler’s leg for kickoffs. Sign some backup depth at corner and in the offensive line. Draft a future anchoring O-lineman in the top 10 of the first round, which is where they’re headed, as Cleveland (Joe Thomas) and Miami (Jake Long) have done recently with great success. And as you sit in your stadium watching two other teams play in the Super Bowl, imagine what could have been had you done all this three years sooner.


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