Wednesday, October 25, 2006

How to screw up a team: The Parcells way

The Monk grew up in NYC and is a lifelong Giants fan. The Monk has lived in the Dallas area for 11 years. Dallas sportswriters are neither as cynical nor as nasty as NY sportswriters. That said, they know their football because this is primarily (and before the Stars and Rangers made playoff runs in the mid-90s, exclusively) a football town; thus, they're not straw-chewing, moonshine jug swillin' country hicks that fell off the turnip truck.

Franchise quarterbacks like Eli Manning and Donovan McNabb took snaps in their team's first preseason game, even if only for one series or one quarter. So the Dallas sports media noticed something amiss when Cowpatties' head coach Bill Parcells played backup QB Tony Romo for the whole of preseason game 1. After Romo's solid performance, the fans and much of the media immediately began raising issues of "quarterback controversy" and "play Romo now!" That idiocy made life that much worse in Cowmanure land -- Drew Bledsoe had to wonder to some degree about his job, Parcells had to answer questions about his quarterback, etc.

All this may have been Parcells' intent. He's as Machiavellian as they get and famous for painful motivational techniques -- after all, in preseason 2000 he continually yelled at star cornerback Mark Collins: "Flipper Anderson, Flipper Anderson -- why weren't you in the Pro Bowl last year? Flipper Anderson!" Anderson is the wide receiver who caught the game-winning TD against the Giants whilst guarded by Collins . . . who'd literally broken his ankle earlier in the game and continued to play.

Then again, it's more likely that Parcells has caused a complete mess. He overplayed the Romo card, then backed himself into a position where he basically had to use Romo after a colossal Bledsoe mistake in the second quarter Monday night.

Or did he? As Gregg Easterbrook, ESPN's Tuesday Morning Quarterback, points out, the Cowboys took their stupid pills before the game:

So both Dallas quarterbacks ended the game in the doghouse, and TMQ thinks bad coaching is the explanation. Early in the contest, G-Persons leading 7-0, Dallas had a first-and-10 on its own 1-yard line, the most dangerous spot on the field. Dallas' coaches called for Bledsoe to take a five-step drop backward into his end zone; he barely avoided a safety. Now it's second down, and what do Dallas' coaches call? Another dropback: sack, safety. The Cowboys' offensive line messed up on this play -- LaVar Arrington came through the "B gap" untouched, the right tackle and right guard both ignoring him. But the key mistake was the coaches' calls, not the players' performance.

Now we're at the Giants' goal line with 1:38 left in the first half. It's second-and-goal, Dallas holds all three timeouts, plenty of time to run the ball. Instead, the Cowboys' coaches call a short square-out. When you're at the goal line, the short square-out is the riskiest play you can call. Defenders are up at the line, so the cornerback is in position to break on the ball and intercept it; and in this situation the pass travels almost entirely sideways, giving the corner time to react. Dallas' coaches should know how risky the short square-out at the goal line is because three weeks ago when the Cowboys were at the Philadelphia goal line in the closing minute, game in the balance, Dallas' coaches called a short square-out that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. Maybe, just maybe, the Giants watched film of that. So what do Dallas' coaches tell Bledsoe to throw? A short square-out, interception. Just to prove it was no fluke, when the Cowboys reached Jersey/A's 11 late in a game that was still contested, Dallas' coaches again called a short square-out, again intercepted, and this time it was returned for the icing touchdown. Afterward, did Bill "Mr. Personality" Parcells blame himself or his staff? Somehow he didn't get around to that.

Ultimately, the Cowdungs have put themselves in this position by playing head games with Bledsoe and the team. Romo is no solution -- he lacks the arm for sideline throws (the Giants missed two interceptions on deep outs, never mind the three they actually pulled in), he lacks experience to lead a preseason Super Bowl contender, and the offensive line in front of him is pretty poor. Even mobile QBs can be sacked (the Giants pulled down Michael Vick SEVEN times last week; in 1986, the prototype of the modern strong-armed, strong-bodied mobile QB, Randall Cunningham, took 72 sacks -- a record until David Carr continually landed on his arse in 2002). Young and mobile QBs make bad decisions, too.

Simply stated, Parcells screwed up from game 1 of the preseason. Then again, The Monk enjoyed the fallout as the suddenly defensively adequate Giants (give credit to Tim Lewis for adjusting the defense during the bye week -- the team is decidedly better on defense now than it was before the Giants' week 4 bye) whomped the Cowoffal in Irving on Monday, with The Monk in attendance.

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