Tuesday, December 29, 2009

More Armchair Quarterbacking

I'm with ESPN's Howard Bryant here, on the benching of Colts starters:

But here is where the entire logic of resting starters in December collapses: In the most dangerous and violent of sports, football coaches don't practice this protective strategy during the season. If Caldwell or any coach were going to rest starters at the end of the season, he should do so during the entirety of the season, following the NBA approach (it is commonplace to watch Kobe Bryant or Tim Duncan watching a fourth-quarter blowout from the bench).

Take, for example, how Caldwell handled Manning earlier this season:

• Led 31-10 in Week 3 at Arizona with 11:31 left. Manning played the whole game.

• Led 28-3 in Week 4 versus Seattle with 8:02 left in the third quarter. Manning played the whole game.

• Led 31-9 in Week 5 at Tennessee with 7:32 left and a bye week coming up. Manning played the whole game.

• Led 28-6 in Week 7 at St. Louis at the end of third quarter. Manning played the whole game.

So Caldwell coached a certain way all season long. Why, then, would Manning be more at risk on Sunday than he had been during the rest of the regular season? If the stated objective is to win the Super Bowl, wasn't Manning unnecessarily at risk on the field for the entire game in a 42-6 win over the Rams?

Taking out his starters would have made more sense under the following conditions: 1. The game was especially physical and/or dirty; 2. Weather increased the risk of injury; 3. The result of the game was no longer in doubt; or, 4. The players in question were already playing with injuries that threatened their playoff availability.

When Manning was removed, he had not been sacked nor intercepted. The Jets are a tough, physical defensive team, but Manning had completed 14 of 21 passes for 192 yards. The two teams are formal rivals, but the game itself wasn't a particularly edgy one in which a star player was at greater risk of injury due to a cheap shot or rougher play. Weather, naturally, was not a factor because the Colts play indoors. At 15-10 with five minutes left in the third, the outcome of the game was hardly assured, and Manning, who has played in 191 consecutive games -- which is to say every game of his NFL career -- is not an injury risk.

And if injury was truly such a major consideration, why allow Manning to play at all? He could have broken his leg in the first quarter Sunday and could injure himself at Buffalo next week. In short, none of it really made sense.

I'm with Bryant when he says that Coach Caldwell created a distraction- his decision. Good coaches remove distractions. He created one, at precisely the wrong time: right before the playoffs.

None of this is to say that the Colts can't overcome. They certainly can. Overcoming 16-0 would have been a better 'problem' to deal with, though. Just because the Patriots lost the Super Bowl after going 16-0, well, post hoc; ergo, propter hoc?


Todd S. said...

Apparently I can't resist the bait.

Has Mr. Bryant ever heard of the term "nagging injuries?" Week 14 is different from weeks 3-7 due to the pounding NFL bodies take during the season. Resting at the end makes more sense than during the beginning, and Peyton Manning has indeed been listed on the Colts injury report for the last several weeks (glute).

As far as the NBA comparison, well, I'll admit to knowing very little about that league.

San Diego has already come out and said that their starters will play very little this week. It's not like the Colts are doing something "revolutionary" in the NFL.

Mike Kole said...

You're a good man. :-)

I think you and I agreed about the brass ring, and that's something the Chargers aren't chasing. They can't move up or down, and can't attain perfection, so who cares? But, if their last game is a home game, and I'm a Chargers fan living in San Diego, there's no way I buy that ticket.

I've thought about the stategy of resting players and the concept of rustiness. I'm okay with pulling linemen like Jeff Saturday. The pounding he gives and takes is brutal. I think of Mike Webster and Jim Otto when I think of NFL centers. Poor creatures. Their bodies are wreckage. Peyton Manning otoh has never missed a regular season or playoff game in his career due to injury. He wasn't at particular risk in the Jets game. His face on the sideline really tells me all I need to know about whether or not his bum was hurting such that he felt he should have been pulled from the game.

Todd S. said...

Somewhat oddly, they left Saturday in when the pulled Manning. However, there's no way in hell they're pulling Saturday and leaving Manning in. That would increase Manning's injury risk significantly.

Todd S. said...

My main point in bringing up the Chargers is that other teams see the benefit of resting starters at the end of the season while leaving them in throughout entire games earlier in the year. (I don't think the Chargers pulled Rivers during their Christmas Day blowout, but I may be mistaken.)

I'm not disputing the historical possibility. I just don't agree with Bryant's premise. If the Colts were the ONLY NFL team leaving its starters in during blowouts and them resting them later in the year, I think he'd have a point. But actually, he doesn't. (At least not a good one.)