The Fall of the Buzzsaw and MNF

NFirst off, if you haven't ventured over to Planet Killer lately, you should do yourself a favor and check out what Mark has to say about all things sports and entertainment (though mostly sports) fairly regularly; more often than not he's writing something insightful that makes me wish I had written it first. Which brings me to his recent post about last night's MNF debacle--both on the field and in the booth.

I couldn't agree with Mark more that the Theismann/Tirico/Kornheiser team is a bust. Theismann is a douche, Tirico is vanilla, and Kornheiser is just loud. But I myself had little hope for the crew. I've never liked Kornheiser on PTI; the only reason that show was bearable was Wilbon's intelligence and his cute little obsession with the Cubs. In a sense, Kornheiser and PTI is symptomatic of much that is wrong with ESPN. No longer is the meat of sports coverage at the "worldwide leader" about the event itself (although I have to say that ESPN's baseball coverage remains pretty admirable--and that's saying a lot considering we have to deal with Joe Morgan as much as we do). Instead it's about the hype, the storyline, the script.

Example. Last night's game between the Bears and the Cardinals boiled down to 3 main storylines (give or take), and everything--and I mean EVERYTHING--continually came back to these themes throughout the pre-game/in-game/post-game broadcast:

1. The Bears are good (are they better than the '85 Bears? Please tell us, Coach Ditka, please. America is dying to know how you compare a team that's played 5 games this year--and only one against a legitimate power, Seattle--to a Super Bowl winner. Fucking ludicrous) and that there is no way they will lose because

2. Arizona blows. They have now been labeled a "futile" franchise. If I had a nickel for every time Kornheiser referenced how historically bad Arizona is, I'd probably have a dollar. Maybe even $1.25. But--BUT--(this is where the whole booth got giant erections about midway through the third quarter)--Arizona may be saved because

3. Matt Leinart is GOOD. And he is a Hollywood boy. And had you heard he played at USC? He is SO good that he is capable of marching his historically futile team down the field for the game-winning field goal. Goddamn, he has so much poise, I might have to ignore the Paris Hilton herpes and go blow him myself.

Anyway, my point is not that these aren't valid observations; they are. The Bears have dominated teams this year. Arizona is historically bad. Matt Leinart has looked really good the past two games. But all of this obscured what was actually going on down on the field. Where this particularly baffled me was that final drive when Leinart got the offense into field goal range and then Denny Green immediately decided to run the ball, run out the clock, and kick the field goal for the win. The only problem: the Cards only got close enough to make it a 40 yard field goal; hardly a chip shot by any kicker's standards.

There was absolutely no discussion in the booth about the relative merits or demerits of settling for a 40 yard field goal instead of going for the end zone (or at the very least getting 10 more yards to make it easier on your kicker). Instead, the MNF team was busy fellating Leinart and practically assuming that he had won the game for the Cards. Since when is a 40 yard field goal automatic, particularly for Neil Rackers this year? If Denny Green, Joe Theismann, Mike Tirico, and Tony Kornheiser didn't know that, let's hope they do now. Maybe that'll show up in the MNF script for next week.


Jason said...

I think Arizona did want to move the ball 10 or 20 more yards, but the Bears stopped them. The Cardinals had second down and three from the Chicago 24. They have a guy in James who wants the ball down the stretch. If you're Green, why not call a running play for 3 yards? Then on third down they only needed one yard. Again a running play isn't inappropriate. It is a safe call, but not a bad call. In the NFL you have to assume that your kicker can make a 40-yard field goal. That should be a gimmie.

Right before the kick, didn't you feel that he was going to miss it?

trout said...

Why not call a running play for 3 yards (or even 1 yard)? I'll tell you why. Because James couldn't get any yards all night. More often than not, he got 1 if he was lucky. His final line was 36 rushes for 55 yards for an average of 1.5 yards per carry. Even those numbers are skewed. James had one 12 yard run, and a few others between 5 and 10 way back in the first quarter. Take those away, and he's averaging less than a yard per play.

Add to that the fact that the Bears are going to be keying on the run because they know Arizona wants to run the clock and Denny Green is a moron, and it begins to look to me like stupid calls.

I disagree that you have to assume your kicker is going to make a 40 yard field goal. I don't think you should trust your kicker for something like that, regardless of who he is. This year in the NFL, kickers are 83/113 (73%) from 40-49 yards, hardly a sure thing. The pressure's enormous in a situation like that where you have to make a kick to salvage a game that everyone knows your team goddamn better well win.

I know you want to give your Bears the credit (and Urlacher and company certainly do deserve some credit), but the fact remains that the Cardinals are the ones who giftwrapped that game. And yet the ESPN crew was too attached to their pre-conceived storylines to comment on any of these things during the game.

Gage said...

Isn't the point here that the guys in the booth didn't even have this coversation at all?