Monday, May 18, 2009

The NFL's Top 10 myths

As I said before I love the Top 10 series.  I usually agree with most of the list.  I may feel this guy or that thing is a bit over or under-rated, but I agree with the list as a whole.  The experts interviewed are usually frank about the controveries, so disagreements & arguments are covered well.

Never, never, never in my life have a I so vehemently diagreed with a program as I did with the Top 10 Myths.  That list was mostly bullshit.  The top two (2) so-called myths were absolute and complete bullshit.  They were controversial points on film.  The experts interviewed for the program vehemently disputed these points.  Some were for it.  Some were against it.

For the purpose of this Blog entry, I want to focus on the #1 so-called myth:  The Prevent Defense prevents you from winning.  This saying has been an axiom for years now.  Just about all NFL fans feel this way.  Most veteran defenders feel this way also.  How in fucking hell did Sabol and company managed to identify this great hueristic truth as a myth?

I want to clarify exactly why this is not a myth.  I also want to explore why this may have been a case of unqualified confusion.

What is the Prevent Defense?

The PD is a special defensive package and strategy that some head coaches and defensive coordinaters have favored through time.  When you get a big lead, say 14 to 17 points, you change your defensive formation and objectives.  
1. You rush 3 men.  
2. You drop 8 men into pass coverage
3. The 8 men in coverage play a soft-zone.
4. You make sure two of those 8 men and super-deep.  All the way back in the end-zone, perhaps.
5. You try to guard the sidelines and prevent ball carriers from getting out of bounds.
6. You never allow a deep pass.
7. You concede 6, 7 or 8 yard gains in the middle of the field.
8. You hit hard and tackle immediately.
9. You force the enemy to creep down field with the clock running
10. You inflict punishment, and try to create a turn-over.

This is the strategy of the Prevent Defense.  Conceptually, it all seems very sound.  Although it had been seen before, it was deployed massively in the aftermath of the 1978 rules changes.  Those rule changes created an offensive explosion, especially in Pittsburg, Dallas, and San Diego.  Even the Rams began to throw the ball deep in 1980 with Vince Ferragamo.  Before this we were a ground chuck offense.

In those days, teams were deathly afraid of the bomb, especially at the end of the game.  The bomb in the 4th quarter was feared because it could quickly bring you back from a sizable deficit.  Let's not forget how the Rams were defeated by the Steelers in 4th quarter of Super Bowl XIV.  Two big 60-prevent-slot-hook-and-goes to John Stallworth won the game for the Steelers.  Stallworth should have been the MVP.

Ergo, the prevent defense was praised in the late 1970s and early 1980s as a very wise, sound and conservative defensive package for the deep 4th quarter.  Typically, teams with a lead would play this package in the last 5 to 7 minutes of the game... if they had a good lead.

But history takes its turns.  A funny little thing happened in 1981 which shot the prevent defense to fucking hell, and some rationalist/anti-empircal fans and coaches still haven't noticed it to this day.  That funny little thing was called the 49er West Coast Offense.

I have found that most people don't understand the West Coast Offense at all.  It is completely misunderstood and mischaracterized by almost everyone as a high-flying and high-scoring offense.  Well... it may be efficient and high scoring (sometimes) but high-flying it ain't.  Especially not in the begining of time when Bill Walsh invented it and Joe Montana was running it.

The West Coast Offense is a piece of pure trickeration.  The objective is to fake the pass on almost every play.  Most of the time, you send two recievers deep to the endzone.  The QB looks deep.  The defense reads the QB and reacts.  The QB checks down to a running back (like Roger Craig, Tom Rathman, Edger Bennett, Dorsey Levens or Michael Westbrook).  The pass covers 4 to 8 total yards in the air.  The running back makes the catch at the line of scrimmage near the sideline.  It looks more like a latteral than a pass, even though it is a forward pass.  The running back runs through a stretched defensive field.  The back can almost always get 4 to 8 yards on such a play.  You use the short pass just like a long hand-off.  You use the short passing game just like the run.  Every play is a delayed hand off.  Every play is a draw.  Every play is a screen pass.  There were three questions to be answered by Walsh in this experiment.  Can the short pass completely replace the running attack?  Can we control the ball and march to a score consistently this way?  Can the short pass setup the long pass?

Basically, Walsh and Montana were able to answer Yes, Yes, and Maybe to those three questions.  It was a revolutionary offense for the mad-bomber era.  The 49ers controlled the ball by passing.  You couldn't sack Joe because he didn't hold the ball long.  He wanted to go short anyhow.  You didn't bother to stop the sort pass, because you wanted to prevent the bomb.  Nobody seemed to notice that Joe had no notion at all of going deep. The deep pattern was just there for deception.  25 yards was a deep pass for Joe Montana.  The 49ers beat up a defense making them run back in coverage and run forward to tackle the running back.  They kept their defense off the field too.  Everything worked.

There was another thing that nobody noticed:  The West Coast Offense utterly destroys the Prevent Defense.  The West Coast Offense is absolutely designed to take that which the Prevent Defense was absolutely designed to concede.  Therefore you put fullness against emptiness.  You telligraph a fastball to a fastball hitter.  It is like a penis penetrating a vagina.  The two were made for each other.  The Prevent Defense is pure pussy for the West Coast Offense.  The stupiest fucking thing any coach could ever attempt to do is run a Prevent Defense against the West Coast Offense for the last 7 minutes of the game.  That is enough time for 2 touchdowns.

But wait, isn't the goal to make the offense complete passes in the center of the field?  Don't we guard the sidelines?  You just fucking try it against these guys!  You just try to keep Craig and Rathman in-bounds when they catch the ball near the sidelines and know they have to get out of bounds to stop the clock.  For the Prevent theorists, life a beautiful theory, ruined by an ugly fact.  The fact of the matter is that very few teams had the sort of linebackers and corners you need to power-slam these kinds of athletes immediately in this situation (remember we're in the prevent).  The Giants and the Bears were two such teams in the 1980s.  The Cowboys were such a team in 1990s.

I don't know how many times my Rams lost to the 49ers in the 1980s when we had a lead on them with 4 or 5 minutes to go.  It happened at least 6 or 7 times.  It happened specifically because Coach John Robinson was a major advocate of the Prevent Defense (it worked at USC, didn't it?) and he loved to run it in the last 5 to 7 minutes of the game.  The Rams might be leading 19-13 with 4 minutes left.  We were willing to concede a field goal, but we didn't want to give up the 7. The 49ers were frustrated.  We bottled Joe all game long.  Then suddenly, after 56 minutes of frustration, Joe gets hot.  He completes everything he throws to Craig, Francis, Franks, Jones, and Rice.  The prevent defense concedes 4 to 8 yards every play.  With horses like Roger Craig, Tom Rathman, and Jerry Rice, they stretch that figure to 12 or 13 yards per play.  They score with 21 seconds left.  We can't comeback running the football with Eric Dickerson.  The situation was too pressure-packed for Jim Everett.  It goes down in the record books as another 2 minute drive for Joe Cool.  

Nope!  Not true!  John Robinson just served up some pure pussy to Bill Walsh.  Bill enjoyed it well.  The West Coast Offense utterly destroys the Prevent Defense.

We Ram-fans weren't the only ones victemized by this stupidity.  The 1983 Redskins almost lost the NFC championship to the 49ers in a very similar fashion.  After inflicting a defensive thumping on Montana through 3 quarters, they thought he was dead.  They went to the Prevent, and Joe got really hot.  They were lucky they profitted from some dastardly-bad calls against the 49ers.  They were lucky Rigg-o could run out the clock for them.  The Diesel won that game.  There were many, many other cases like this.

This is when the chorus began to rise from fans and coaches alike.  This is when we began to chant "The Prevent Defense only prevents you from winning." This only got louder as guys like Wyche, Holmgren, Shanahan, Green, and Gruden started coaching.  I'll tell you now:  All these guys loved it when Marty Schottenheimer ran the Prevent.  This why Marty Schottenheimer never won a single playoff game... except for the two Joe Montana QB'd for him in Kansas City.

Let's face the facts folks:  Nobody plays the West Coast as Walsh once did.  That scheme has evolved out of necessity.  The old methodology doesn't work now.  Defensive Coordinators now know they have to stop the creeping death.  They know they have to challange the short passing game.  They are certain it is leathal if left untreated.  Still, the West Coast is a part of every single one of the 32 offensive playbooks in the NFL now.  Every team has adopted the most successful aspects of this gameplan.  Almost every team uses it (at least a little) each and every Sunday.

If the DC goes to a Prevent, the enemy OC is happy to reply with the West Coast.  The West Coast dominates the Prevent.  Every single year we see several games where some stupid DC tried to go to the Prevent way to early.  In reply, the enemy OC quickly deploys the West Coast.  The result is a come-from-behind victory for the team that profitted from the stupidity of the Prevent. 

This is why we still say the Prevent Defense only prevents you from winning.  The so-called myth is not a myth, and I don't give a fuck if my favorite coach Dick Vermeil takes the other side.  I will remind you that Super Bowl XXXIV was closer than it had to be, and we weren't exactly playing a pure prevent.

There is only one situation where you should ever play the Prevent.  This is in the final 15 seconds of the game when you have a lead greater than 3 points.  Never, never, never use it any sooner than this.