Thursday, October 07, 2010

Gathering Moss

Two things for today: -- Numero uno, the trade of Randy Moss to the Minnesota Vikings. This is classic Belichick. Despite being a member of the Bill Parcells coaching tree we also know that Belichick was a big fan of Bill Walsh and holds his book "Finding the Winning Edge" in high esteem. One of the points that always comes up when you do enough research on Walsh is the idea that's it better to replace a player a year too early than a year too late, predominantly because of the value that can still be obtained from letting a player go too early. Moss is a case in point. His contract is expiring. To release him into free agency is a waste. To retain him would cost money. Lots of it. By trading Moss now the Patriots have lost a great player for 2010 but gained an additional pick in the third round for 2011. And let's not forget how good Belichick can be at finding good, multi-year contributors in the middle rounds. Any argument that the Patriots have "given up" on their season (as suggested numerous times now on NFL network) is ludicrous. Young receiver Brandon Tate has great speed down the field, Julian Edelman is vastly under rated by many, they still have Wes Welker, and the combo of rookie tight ends Rob Gronkowski & Aaron Hernandez (both on my watch list) add a new level of depth to this offense. The Patriots will be fine if they can just sort out that defense. For the Vikings the trade makes some sense to. With Favre in it for probably his last year (but then, this is Favre...) the Vikings are all about winning now and if they plan on doing that, they need Moss to give them a consistent down field threat. The window is here for Minnesota. With the rest of the NFC in the state it's in currently, there is a very good chance that the runner up in the NFC North will finish with a good enough record to take one of the wild card slots. -- Next up I want to look at a segment from NFL networks "Playbook" show. The segment was posted on but sadly the NFL seems intent on not allowing people to embed their videos, despite the fact that said videos often contain ads which they generate revenue from and of course it's free exposure for them. Bitching aside, here is the link to the video. The purpose of the clip is to demonstrate the athleticism and talent of Ravens NT Haloti Ngata, which it does. But what is more interesting to me is that the playbook crew overlooks some of the weaknesses of the Steelers O-line play that contributes. I've often found this a hard balancing act to play with; do you highlight the flaws in a play and put it all down to that, or do you highlight the strength of the person making the play? In this case I think it's a bit of both. The first part of the clip comes at about 1:12 or so and it's a zone/stretch run play to the left (from the Steelers perspective). Mayock points out Ngata (number 92) for our convenience. But although Ngata does make a great drive off the line to beat the Guard (to his left) and get into the backfield, the reality is that the play is made because the Center Maurkice Pouncey (starting over Ngata, or vice versa depending on your preference) fails to make the block. Instead of turning back on Ngata and working the double team on Ngata with the guard before "slipping" off to take LB Ray Lewis (number 52), the Center instead works all the way down the line and ends up effectively making a partial triple team on the next down linemen. This is either a result of poor play design, or more likely just Pouncey making a bad adjustment to the defensive front. Credit to Ngata for his powerful downhill assault, but it should have been stopped. The next play is at 1:29 and this is a bit more open as to whether the offense is at fault or whether Ngata just makes a stout defensive play. Again, it's probably a bit of both, but what concerns me most is the way the tight end and the right tackle (number 71, Flozell Adams) handle their block. It's clear from the front that they have Ngata and Lewis. They have to double Ngata then one of them - in this case the tight end - has to slip off and get Lewis. The trouble is that Adams heads inside on his first step, thus preventing him from getting proper position on Ngata. Ideally you'd want Adams to get up in Ngatas face head to head, then with the aid of the tight end they would turn Ngatas shoulders and butt out of the hole. As it is they can't turn him (indeed, to his credit Ngata turns Adams) as the tight end slips off to get Lewis. So it's kind of a 50/50, part bad blocking, part great D-line play. Any coaches reading this would be advised to get the clip and use it as an example to their O-line of the importance of the first step. The next play starts at around the 1:48 mark and again we find Steelers Center Maurkice Pouncey (number 53) head up with Ngata. Now again Ngata does show off his physical skills by throwing Pouncey to one side, then tossing aside Guard Doug Legursky, before finally tracking the play laterally with surprising agility for a man of his size. But here again I have to question the blocking by Pouncey. As a lineman you cant afford to give the opponent a two-way go. You have to commit to blocking him one way or the other. It's the responsibility of the back to read the block and then cut off it in the appropriate direction. Instead Pouncey kind of rides Ngatas shoulder wondering and waiting for him to make a move. You've either got to cross his face and keep him trapped inside or stay inside of him, let him run out and wait for the back to cut in; when he does (which he ended up doing) Ngata will turn to make the tackle (which he did) and then you're perfectly placed to drive into Ngata and seal him outside. The last play is just Ngata being a great athlete. He doesn't make the play but it's all kinds of fun to watch. So what do we learn from this? That the Steelers need some work on their O-line. That rookie Maurkice Pouncey is still a rookie. That sometimes you have to sit back and look at the whole picture to really understand what's going on. But importantly for me, if the Steelers can be as good as they are at running the football with O-line play like this, how much better could they be at it with a little extra work? Have a great day everyone.

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