TMQ: The importance of the incomplete pass.

The stadium scene.
Jan. 22 2002 10:30 AM

The Importance of the Incomplete Pass

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Something finally clicked in Patriots play-caller Charlie Weis' mind late Saturday because as the fourth quarter began, he made the same adjustment he'd made in his previous snow game. The Raiders did not adjust. The counter to what Weis did is "cover one," having DBs right up on the line to jam receivers, with the safeties back in case someone slips through. Oakland stayed in a soft zone, conceding the short crossing pass, and the Patriots took it play after play.

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Raiders fans, TMQ agrees that it was unfair your club never got a possession in OT. The NFL needs to change its overtime system; playoff games should not be decided by only allowing one team a try. But as your car that you left the keys in disappears down the road, don't complain that it's unfair because you would have been out sooner if the Starbucks line hadn't been so long. Lock the car when you have the chance.

Worst Crowd Response: Receiving the unexpected gift of a playoff matchup for the last time ever with the lights on at Foxboro, the home crowd booed the Patriots repeatedly in the first half.

Stop Me Before I Blitz Again! Oakland faces third and seven; it's a blitz! Six gentlemen cross, easy completion for the first down, touchdown two plays later. Oakland faces third and nine; it's a blitz! Six gentlemen cross, easy completion for the first down, field goal on the drive. Oakland faces third and 10; it's a blitz! Six gentlemen cross, easy completion for the first down, field goal on the drive. AllRaider scores came on possessions when New England let Oakland off the hook by big-blitzing on third and long. Two other Patriot blitzes on third and long did work. But that's just two of five—when the odds favor the defense on third and long in the first place.

Buck-Buck-Brawckkkkkkk No. 2: Trailing 7-0 with 59 seconds left in the half, New England faced fourth and three on the Oakland 36. The Patriots punted.

Buck-Buck-Brawckkkkkkk No. 3: Game tied with 22 seconds left, Oakland took possession on its 35 with two time-outs. Remember when Oakland used to amaze the league by passing down the middle with the clock ticking? Two intermediate completions, two time outs, and you're in range for the league's highest-paid kicker and the win. Instead the Raiders knelt, and never had possession again.

Baltimore at Pittsburgh
What a show from Ketchup Field, but first let's get something straight: Pittsburgh only looks like "Blitzburgh." The Steelers line up 3-4, and a linebacker almost always shoots. But that is not a blitz; it is a four-gentleman rush, the convention throughout the known football universe. If four rushers coming from a 3-4 constitutes a "blitz," then the Steelers are blitzing on every down, in which case the term becomes meaningless.

To blitz from a 3-4, one must send at least five—same as to blitz from a 4-3. We need terminology for what happens when a 3-4 sends four men but you can't be sure where the fourth will come from. It's common to call this a "zone blitz." but it's not a blitz: maybe "zone rush."

At any rate, during the first half Sunday, as Pittsburgh was compiling a 20-3 lead, the Steelers true-blitzed just three times. That's it—three defensive snaps on which five or more gentlemen crossed the line. (Results: sack, incompletion, and Baltimore conversion of a fourth down.) The Steelers blitzed somewhat more in the second half, for a total of 10 true-blitzes on 51 Baltimore snaps. That's 20 percent, about the same fraction that all NFL teams true-blitz.

So enough, already, with "Blitzburgh." More please of Pittsburgh, a fine team having a fascinating season. One point of fascination: Twice against the Ravens, Kordell Stewart got away with intentional grounding. Purists cheered—because it meant he has learned to do the smart thing and get rid of the ball, rather than court disaster. This year it's been like there was a switch on Stewart's back that said OUT OF CONTROL/MATURE QUARTERBACK, and someone finally flipped it to the "mature" setting.

Best Line Blocking: Jerome Bettis was hurt, yet the Steelers ran for 154 yards against the supposedly impermeable Ravens. This vindicates the contention from last week's TMQ that offensive line play is the essence of the top-rated Pittsburgh ground game. TMQ Non-QB/RB MVP guard Alan Faneca of the Steelers did not have a good game, however, giving up a sack and looking lost on some pulls. It's the come-down effect of a week of glamour and nonstop mega-babes after announcement of the TMQ award.

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