TMQ: The importance of the incomplete pass.

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

The Importance of the Incomplete Pass


This year the Houston Texans begin NFL play, helmets adorned with lovely cow-inspired logos. But it's a globalized world. When will the NFL go international? TMQ has already looked into possible international expansion opportunities. Here are some:


  • The Kiev Chickens. Name alone would justify an international NFL.
  • The Jerusalem Wailers. Uniform colors would be Orthodox all black, and jersey backs would say, "For You, I'm No. 38."
  • The Kandahar Fanatics. Signs at the stadium gate would proclaim, No One Is Allowed To Enjoy the Game!
  • The European Union Euros. (Regional franchise.) Team symbol would be an imaginary bridge.
  • The Copenhagen Tall Blondes. Fabulous cheerleaders, plus sauna boxes instead of luxury boxes.
  • The New Delhi Wandering Cattle. Opponents would not be allowed to hit them.
  • The Beijing Gang of 11.
  • The Riyadh Corrupt Inbred Royal Parasites. No Saudi would actually play on the team; they'd hire Yemenis and Pakistanis for that.
  • The Dar es Salaam Sheblows. It has nothing to do with what you're thinking. After scores, fans would holler, "Dar Sheblows!"
  • The Johannesburg Tutus. For this club at the racial vanguard, all kickers would be black and all cornerbacks white.
  • The Kuala Lumpur Geckos. Team owners have notified the league that although playing in Malaysia, they wish officially to be known as the "New York Geckos." After all, the "New York" Giants and Jets already get away with the same basic swindle.

In other NFL news, the defending champion Ravens are out, taking their hubris with them. TMQ has repeatedly compared Baltimore to Sparta—great defense, humorless, guilty of crimes against civilization.

When Baltimore beat the upright and law-abiding Giants in the Super Bowl last year, TMQ likened it to Sparta's victory over upright Athens in the Peloponnesian War. When the champs fell to Cincinnati early this season, TMQ compared it to Sparta's surprise defeat by previously unranked Thebes at Leuctra in 371 BC. Pretty obviously, the termination of the Ravens' dynasty by Pittsburgh equates to the retreat of Sparta at the hands of Macedon under Alexander the Great. And pretty obviously, that leaves this question—next season will a cap-depleted Ravens be sacked and dismembered, as Sparta was by the Goths? Carolina, Cincinnati, Jax, Houston: Football's equivalent of the Goths are on your schedule next year, Baltimore, and are circling your camp. The football gods grind the clock slow, but they grind exceeding small.

Historiography note: The never-published afterward to Gibbon's Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire attributes the final dissolution of Rome to the salary cap, which forced the empire to waive veteran legionaries and replace them with rookies from outlying provinces.

Game-by-Game Analysis

Philadelphia at Chicago
TMQ dubs this the Sideways Bowl. Chicago, with the most timid offense in the league, called more sideways action than TMQ has seen since the last time he tried to squeeze over to the best-looking babe at a college party. Down the field, Bears, you are supposed to go down the field. Instead hitch screen, bubble screen, quick out, pitch out, sideways, sideways. The Bears threw deep exactly twice. Now, it's true both deep throws were intercepted, but this tells you more about Chicago QBs than tactics. Which brings us to an important lesson about offense—the value of the incomplete deep pass.

Drip-drip-drip passing has take over the NFL partly because offensive coordinators reason that since short throws are easier to complete, why not endlessly throw short? About a third of deep throws, on average, are complete, versus about two-thirds for short attempts. (Dallas, with the worst pass completion figure in the league this year, still connected on 51 percent by mainly throwing short.) Overlooked in all this is that the incomplete deep throw forces defenses to respect the long pass, which in turn opens things up for other plays.

While the Bears were throwing deep just twice, the Eagles went deep six times. Result? A 43-yard gain, three incompletions, and two drops, one of which would have been a touchdown. Not much, you say. But these deep shots forced the Bears defenders to back off the short routes, prevented Chicago from choking up against the run, and created an intermediate zone for Donovan McNabb's scrambles. Philadelphia compiled a 336-186 yardage edge, partly because it kept throwing deep whether completing them or not. Lots of NFL snaps end up wasted. A deep incompletion at least sets up other plays while a short incompletion sets up—nothing.

For their part the Eagles dominated the Bears by blitzing, right? It's true Philadelphia is the one NFL team to come out ahead this year by frequent blitzing (see below). But against Chicago, the Eagles blitzed seven times on 47 Bears snaps, less than the league average of about 20 percent blitzing. The Eagles may blitz against the Rams—we'll see. But because Chicago was playing such a dinky sideways game, Philadelphia knew it would be better off dropping LBs into short coverage and leaving the Bears nowhere to throw. Result? For Chicago, 73 yards passing at home.



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