Aggressive coaching pays off in NFL
Published: Wednesday, January 19, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 19, 2005 at 12:15 a.m.
Herman Edwards' mantra isn't complicated: ''You play to win the game.''
Adhering to that is not so simple.
As Edwards and Marty Schottenheimer proved this postseason - and as a myriad of coaches prove every season, hurting their teams' chances of getting to the playoffs - backing off is a bad idea in pro football.
The Jets are to be lauded for a remarkable January run that should have put them in the AFC championship game. They are out of the playoffs largely because they lack the aggressive approach of champions.
Edwards and offensive coordinator Paul Hackett didn't learn from what doomed San Diego the previous week against the Jets. Schottenheimer got conservative in overtime, playing for a field goal. His rookie kicker missed, and the Jets won soon after - by aggressively attacking a fading Chargers defense before getting a short kick to win.
A week later, the Jets were in position to stun the Steelers. Once they got into field goal range, with plenty of time on the clock, Edwards and Hackett chose to play for the kick instead of pushing for first downs and, perhaps, a touchdown.
When will coaches learn it's unwise to plan for a field goal? If they have to settle for a 3-pointer, fine. But take some shots, don't just run the ball meekly into the line, then ask a kicker to hit from 40 or more yards, outdoors, on a messy field, under playoff pressure.
Particularly a kicker such as the Chargers' Nate Kaeding, in his first NFL season, or the Jets' Doug Brien, who is a veteran but doesn't have a strong history of making game-winners.
''We have information that no one else has when you're in situations in the football game,'' Edwards said, defending his choice. ''You go on your ability, the percentage of this is what can happen, and that's what you've got to weigh it on. When it doesn't work, you get criticized. That's OK. Because every coach in the league gets criticized when it doesn't work.''
Pittsburgh's Bill Cowher showed why he is one of the league's most astute coaches - and has held his job longer than any other current coach - in the win over the Jets. After Brien's misses, when the Steelers got the ball in overtime, they kept attacking. While the Jets ran screens or running plays, the Steelers threw downfield. They trusted their personnel, and they were looking for a touchdown or, at worst, a chip-shot field goal.
And they got it. Afterward, Cowher said he would have made the same decision as Edwards.
''I trusted the player,'' Edwards said. ''He missed the field goal. I can live with that. I'll make some more decisions that people say, 'Why did you do that?' You know what? Because I'm the head coach, and I get to make the decision.''
The really good ones always avoid the temptation to coach not to lose, and they generally win. Their game preparation is based on highlighting what their team can do well to win comfortably, not on keeping things close and hoping big plays come their way.
Andy Reid and Bill Belichick were perfect examples of that last weekend, a major reason the Eagles and Patriots won - and are favored in this weekend's title games.
Reid wanted a healthy roster for the postseason. After Philadelphia clinched home-field advantage for the NFC playoffs, he was willing to rest his starters and lose twice to ensure having the strongest lineup for the most critical games.
But when the Eagles returned from nearly a month's layoff from topflight competition, they came back assertively. Their offense, even without Terrell Owens, went right after the Vikings. The defense blitzed frequently, what the Eagles do best, even though Minnesota quarterback Daunte Culpepper usually handles such pressure well.
Belichick, meanwhile, again showed his coaching prowess against Indianapolis and NFL MVP Peyton Manning.
Even though both starting cornerbacks and All-Pro tackle Richard Seymour were sidelined, New England's defense never let up. Belichick and coordinator Romeo Crennel devised schemes that were applied perfectly by a deep unit of nearly interchangeable parts.
Manning, winless against Belichick, looked as uncertain as Chad Pennington and Drew Bledsoe do twice a year against the Patriots.
''It is a lot of the same song as last year, unfortunately,'' Manning said. ''It is me versus, you know, the Patriots. But I never played that way or felt that way.''
The fourth remaining coach in the playoffs, Atlanta's Jim Mora, hardly has the track record of Belichick, Cowher and Reid. He does, however, have an understanding of what it takes to compete on the highest level: aggression.
Michael Vick won't be restricted to the pocket, and the Falcons' defense won't be restrained against Philadelphia.
That's playing to win.
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