Sports Nut

Sunset for the West Coast Offense

The Bills, Jets, and Lions stand a combined 2-9. What do they share in common? All have novice commissars with no head-coaching experience, and enough said about that. All have switched from attacks that had no brand name to the West Coast Offense™, and so far the West Coast Offense™ has been a disaster for all three. Interception-a-rama in Detroit, fumble-a-rama in Buffalo, stumble-a-rama for the Jets. Yet presumably all these teams are paying Bill Walsh a licensing fee.

What is the West Coast Offense™? Devised mainly by Walsh at the Niners of the early 1980s, the offense emphasized short, quick passes with three-step drops or half-rolls by the quarterback. (You hear people say the secret is “timing routes,” but all offenses require QB-WR timing.) When Walsh devised his system, standard passing “trees” were drawn up to achieve long gains or set amounts of yardage needed for a first down. Coaches thought, where’s the point of passes designed to be short, that’s making the pass into a run. Walsh demonstrated that short passing not only moves the chains but helps the running game because defenses cannot crowd the line of scrimmage. All successful West Coast Offense™ teams—the current Broncos, Niners, and Packers are the exemplars—rush effectively.

The trouble is, like Third Way political ideas, West Coast Offense™ caught on so much that basically everybody now uses some variation. All NFL teams now call short passes, a reason typical completion percentages have risen in the last two decades while typical yards-per-attempt have declined. Meanwhile all defenses have studied West Coast Offense™ tapes and devised countermeasures. The current Broncos, Niners, and Packers aren’t running the classic West Coast Offense™ anymore; they’re running a California-spawned variation—let’s call it the Rolling Blackout Offense—that takes frequent shots down the field. The mutated Rolling Blackout Offense also varies its sets. The original West Coast Offense™ was also strictly one TE, two backs, and a WR on each side. Today the Broncs, Niners, and Packers use triple WRs, double TEs, and other funky sets to keep defenses confused about who’s where.

The Bills, Lions, and Jets did not seem to know this evolution. Each installed a 1980s-vintage West Coast Offense™ that shows fixed, predictable formations and runs repetitive short slants and crosses on almost every play. Defenses have known how to stop this antique version of the West Coast Offense™ for years. The result is a combined 2-9 record and poor performance for the three clubs. Detroit was a snappy, West Coasty 26-for-34 completions last night against the Rams but couldn’t score. Each time the Lions got deep into St. Louis territory, the goal line became like the shimmering energy barrier that surrounds the galaxy in the old Captain Kirk shows, completely impenetrable. Buffalo on Sunday turned the ball over on three of its first four possessions and was playing catch-up from the middle of the first quarter on. The only reason the Jets were able to get a win is that they were playing the Bills.

Because we are all the West Coast Offense™ now, arguably the standard version of this offense has become the league’s least effective attack. If only the Bills, Lions, and Jets could get their licensing fee payments back.

In other news, the Rams continue to run an unnamed attack that scored a mere 35 points last night in  a bad outing. Let’s dub it the Plane of the Ecliptic Offense, for clearly St. Louis skill-position players are space aliens, not members of genus Homo. Through one stretch, the Rams called 17 consecutive passing plays. On the 17th, Lions defenders looked surprised that it was a pass.

The NFL Buys the Rustproofing: Football purists rejoice that the National Automobile Dealers Association and the NFL cut a deal pushing the Super Bowl back by a week and preserving the full playoff bracket. Fans should rush out and buy new cars to thank the dealers for giving up their convention date in New Orleans and also to express sympathy for the fact that their organization’s acronym is NADA. No Spanish-speakers on the committee that choose that name! “America’s new-car dealers are doing their part to help the country’s healing process,” NADA president Phillip Brady said. Let’s not go overboard with the high-pressure sales pitch, Phil. You’re also getting an NFL payment of $7.5 million.

TMQ has obtained an actual transcript of the negotiations between NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and car dealers boss Brady:

TAGLIABUE: Look, it says right here on the sticker, convention cancellation cost $6.5 million. So why is the final price $7.5 million?CAR DEALERS: Hey, there are prep charges, destination charges, wax and polishing. Plus we include a very attractive package of mandatory options.TAGLIABUE: How can “options” be mandatory? (Receives blank look.) Um, OK, suppose I offered $7 million.CAR DEALERS: I gotta talk to my manager. I’ll be right back. (Disappears. Muzak heard.)TAGLIABUE (To self.): That’s the third time he’s left. I wonder if he’s really talking to a manager.CAR DEALERS (Returns.): Sorry, no can do. My manager says $7.5 million is factory invoice. We won’t be making a single penny on this deal. We never, ever make a cent on any deal! But he did offer to throw in rustproofing.TAGLIBUE: Rustproofing?CAR DEALERS: We rustproof the Superdome. Keeps it nice and shiny. Comes with a 10-year, 50,000-game warranty. Now, there are a few exclusions on the warranty. Basically it provides total coverage except in cases of rust. I tell you, I always get rustproofing on my own personal stadiums.TAGLIABUE: OK, it’s a deal. How quickly can I take delivery?CAR DEALERS: First, have you considered the many advantages of leasing?

Best Plays of the Week. Best No. 1: Recorded by the Arizona (CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN FOOTBALL-LIKE SUBSTANCE) Cardinals. Is that a misprint? Trailing the Eagles by six with 17 ticks remaining, Arizona lined up at the Philadelphia 35 and put two WRs left. Erratic quasi-QB Jake Plummer looked left, pumped left, then threw right to MarTay Jenkins, who ran a deep crossing flag from the inside of the left slot. Touchdown and the win. Plummer so regularly looks too long at whoever he wants to go to that the pump was totally convincing. Jenkins had one man to beat though the Eagles were in a prevent defense.

Best No. 2. (Best Defensive): Bay of Tampa 7, Bay of Green 7 late in the third, when the Pack recovers a fumble on the Tampa 22. It’s the sort of situation in which defenders usually fold. Instead Tampa stuffs the run on first and second, then stops a junk pass for a short gain; Bay of Green figgie. When teams turn the ball over deep in their own territory at crucial moments, coaches shout “Field goal! Field goal!” to defenders as they take the field because limiting opponents to three in that situation is a victory for the defense. Though the Bucs surrendered points, this quasi-stand rallied them to a comeback victory.

Best No. 3. The Bears complete a throwback/flanker pass for a touchdown. Deception is fine in the NFL, but high-school trick plays like this almost never work.

Worst Plays of the Week. Worst No. 1: It was distressing to see first-ballot Hall-of-Fame OL Bruce Matthews set his longevity record on a day when the Flaming Thumbtacks OL was horrifyingly awful. True, the Ravens outperformed Tennessee in every aspect, but Ts O-line blunders were embarrassing. Before one snap, the Thumbtacks linemen were frantically pointing at defenders and shouting to each other as if some wild, never-before-seen blitz was coming. Instead Baltimore ran a standard four-man rush, all linemen straight ahead, and got an almost instant sack as five OLs barely slowed down four DLs. Stretching back to last year and the point when they finished with the best regular-season record in the AFC, the Flaming Thumbtacks have lost four straight. The football gods continue to punish this team for honoring the ousted Greek Titan panoply, rather than the triumphant Olympians.

Worst No. 2. (Worst Defensive): The Bolts lead the Browns (Release 2.0) by three with two minutes left and Cleveland facing third and 10. All San Diego needs is a stop, and the Browns’ goose is nearly cooked. Instead, it’s a blitz! Seven gentlemen cross the line. Seven-man blitzes are very rare, and the reason is they usually backfire: That happens here as Cleveland completes for the first and scores the winning touchdown three plays later. (OK, TMQ must admit Carolina did get an interception for a TD off a seven-blitz.)

Stats of the Week. Stat No. 1: The United States scored the first touchdown of a totally all-new season at 12:30 p.m. ET Sunday. There will be many more touchdowns, and the final victory margin will be large. 

Stat No. 2: Deltha O’Neal of the Kansas City Chiefs had four receptions for 69 yards. No wait, he’s a cornerback for the Broncos and pilfered KC for a single-game record-tying four picks. Kansas City and Atlanta, meanwhile, scored a combined 70 fewer points than they did in the previous week.

Stat No. 3: With 412 yards after four Sundays, the Bolts’ LaDainian Tomlinson already has more yards than San Diego’s leading rusher for the entire 2000 season.

Stat No. 4: Some 27,297 people voted online with ESPN on whether a call should be reversed in the Panthers-Niners game, the vote coming at 10:23 p.m. ET. This many people are watching football and online simultaneously? And late at night? TMQ thought the old media had declared the Web passé.

Stat No. 5: The Chesapeake Watershed Region Indigenous Persons have been outscored 135-25.

Stop Me Before I Blitz Again! Baltimore led Tennessee by seven in the middle of the second and faced first and 10 deep in its territory. It’s a blitz! Six gentlemen cross the line, leaving WR Qadry Ismail single-covered for the 77-yard touchdown reception that allows the Ravens to start pulling away. In the first quarter, Baltimore had tried a bomb to Ismail, but the Flaming Thumbtacks ran straight coverage and the pass was incomplete.

Fake Kick = Victory (Except …): The Bills onside-kicked to open their game, and recovered. So they should have won, except erratic quasi-RB Sammy Morris immediately fumbled the ball back to the Jets. Thus another amendment to TMQ’s law, Fake Kick = Victory Unless Ball Is Immediately Fumbled Away by an Erratic Quasi-RB.

This Week’s Star Trek Complaint: Regarding last week’s item strongly supporting the totally gratuitous scene in the Enterprise pilot in which the Vulcan mega-babe stripped to her underwear and slowly, languidly rubbed “decontamination oil” into herself as the camera did loving close-ups: Many readers pointed out that this cheesecake was balanced by beefcake, as a hunk male crew member is also stripping and rubbing himself during the same scene. TMQ’s response—You don’t say. I never noticed.

Note No. 1: If the oil was applied for medical reasons, why didn’t the Vulcan mega-babe have to slowly and languidly caress some onto her breasts and Most Fun Part, too?

Note No. 2: The real Enterprise, CVN 65, displacing 89,600 tons, home port Norfolk, Va., is currently launching raids to protect your freedom to revere the Bible or Quran or whatever your conscience dictates. Also launching is the Carl Vinson, CVN 70, displacing 97,000 tons, home port Bremerton, Wash. Men and women whose names you will never know are at this moment risking their lives to protect democracy from misogynist fascism, and if they succeed, the world’s Muslims, 99 percent of whom long for peace and freedom, will benefit just as much as any other group. Pray for these men and women and for their efforts not to harm the innocent.

Free to Shoes: In the aftermath of NCAA sanctions imposed on the school, Wisconsin was pummeled by hapless Indiana, 63-32, for its worst loss since 1890—which was the Benjamin Harrison administration. Sanctions were imposed because:

1. players were not attending classes;
2. players were cheating on tests;
3. school administrators fixed grades to keep players eligible;
4. players got discounts on shoes.

No, it was not because of anything serious like 1), 2), or 3), rather the total nonsense of 4). Besides, 3) is perfectly fine so far as the NCAA is concerned! NCAA leadership could not care less about scholarship-athlete graduation rates that average below 50 percent in Division I. The NCAA could not care less about altered grades, “tutors” who write athletes’ papers, or the fact that big-sports programs at most schools are net money losers siphoning funds away from academics. And by all appearances, the NCAA couldn’t care less that the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics in June of 2001 called big collegiate football “a disgraceful environment.” (Technical note: The NFL is proud to be a “disgraceful environment.”)

But discounted shoes! Call out the National Guard. Reader “Sspring” characterizes the Wisconsin decision of the NCAA Committee on Infractions as “Badgers? We don’t need no stinking badgers!”

TMQ’s favorite recent absurd NCAA penalty came when Vanderbilt was zapped because CB Jimmy Williams, now on the Niners practice squad, received free financial-planning advice. Free advice is evil, but failing to educate players is fine? And isn’t a college student supposed to receive advice? Wait, that assumes NCAA athletes are students. Besides, the advice received clearly was worthless in monetary terms because the one thing a skilled financial-planning adviser would have told Williams—who dropped to the bottom of the NFL draft because of the cloud on his name—would have been, “Skip every class, but don’t violate any NCAA technicalities; all they care about is technicalities.”

Performance Art Alert: TMQ will read from his incredibly cleverly titled new book, Tuesday Morning Quarterback, at the Barnes & Noble Citicorp Center in New York City, greatest city in the world, on Friday, Oct. 12, at 6:30 p.m. This bookstore is at 160 East 54th St., corner of Third Avenue, in the greatest city in the world. Did I mention that New York is a great city?

I am thinking of wearing a black turtleneck, black beret, and sunglasses and hiring a hippie chick who would have to be named Fawn to play the bongos as I recite ridiculous haiku. The event is believed by Elias Sports Bureau to be the first-ever reading of NFL poetry in New York City, greatest city in the world. Contrary to published reports, Jennifer Lopez will not be present—some lame honeymoon excuse. Numerous supermodels are, however, expected to attend and will gladly give their cell phone numbers to anyone who buys copies of the book, which you can do here if you can’t make it to New York City, greatest city in the world. The book Tuesday Morning Quarterback brims with all-new haiku, including:

Three-and-out again.
Heads hang, fans boo. Can you fire
coach during the game?
—TMQ, 2001

More About Car Dealers: Check out the NADA media center  for association positions on racial profiling of drivers (opposed), fuel-economy improvement for SUVs (opposed by virtue of supporting a House bill that appears bold but would reduce U.S. gasoline usage by less than 1 percent), and unfair characterizations of the automobile sales profession (“many of the stereotypes about new-car dealerships are outdated and inaccurate”). Also for its 10 Tips on How To Spot a Flood-Damaged Vehicle, which includes the handy hint, “Check under the dashboard for dried mud.”

Reader Haiku: Here are recent submissions; offer yours via “The Fray.” The McNown verse requires you to know that Cade, a high draft choice from UCLA, spent so much time in Los Angeles hanging out at the Playboy Mansion, and so little time studying the Bears playbook, that he ended up run out of Chicago on a rail. Thus he lost his job, but got to slowly rub hot decontamination oil onto mega-babes stripped to less than underwear. Tuesday Morning Quarterback feels his priorities were in order.

Carter screams for ball

Culpepper throws incomplete

Sideline tantrums start.

—Ken Kidd
Name causes offense

On the field is none

Let’s begin anew.

—”Jimbo,” re the Redskins
I went to school there

Denisonran the single

wing till ‘95.
Expensive college.

Twenty-eight thousand dollars

might get you one year.

—Two-part haiku from “Former
Denisonstudent,” of TMQ’s item on the schoolCallow Cade McNown

Scores more Playmates than touchdowns

Prefers bares to Bears.

—Patrick Porter
Jennifer Lopez

Dashes hopes of lonely men.

TMQ chagrinned.

—Anthony Presta

Hidden Indicator: This week there were eight interception or fumble returns for touchdowns, all but one recorded by winning clubs. This is the kind of hidden indicator essential to an insider’s understanding of the game, and in this case Tuesday Morning Quarterback knows exactly what it means—nothing is more disheartening to a team than to work, work, work for yards, then suddenly see some skinny gentleman sprinting in the opposite direction for an easy six.

Running Items Department

ObscureCollegeScore of the Week: Aurora 66, Eureka 0. Based in Aurora, Ill., Aurora is “the urban university of the future,” according to its mission statement. Then why go there today? Futuristic aspects of Aurora University include this advice from a business seminar: “Hire a quality telemarketer able to deliver a message the decision-maker can’t refuse to consider. Send creative post cards.” Aurora-appearing business consultant Elliott Black “practices negative marketing at trade shows,” a school press release reports. “After introducing himself to the exhibitor’s decision-maker, he says, ‘I don’t want to talk to you.’ Most prospects recall his novel approach when contacted later, Black said.”

BonusObscureCollegeScore: Fort Hays State 60, Panhandle State 6. Based in Hays, Kan., Fort Hays State offers tornado survival instructions, including recommended shelter areas in each classroom building: “Davis Hall—Interior corridors in the east wing. The shop wing should be evacuated.” The school also runs a pre-law summer camp. Current exhibit at the Forsyth Library: “1920s, Decade of Change.”

Most Inexplicable Monday Night Moment: Indoors in the Detroit dome last night, the MNF fun couple of Melissa Stark and Eric Dickerson wore matching skin-tight black tops. They’re twins—how cute! But it was Dickerson who received the flattering “body shot” camera angles while Stark was strictly a talking head. Yes, football needs to appeal to its female viewer demographic, too. But ye gods, can’t MNF get anything right?

ObscureCollegeCountdown: The buildup begins to Tuesday Morning Quarterback’s Obscure College Game of the Year: California of Pennsylvania vs. Indiana of Pennsylvania on Nov. 3 at George P. Miller Stadium in Indiana, Pa. The Indiana of Pennsylvania Huskies are undefeated and looking for national quasi-recognition; order your copy of the team’s media guide here. The California of Pennsylvania Vulcans are also undefeated, off to their best start since 1986 and boasting LB Jim Lukacs, the PSAC-West Football Co-Defensive Player of the Week. They play tenacious co-defense at Cal of Pa! It’s going to be an awesome showdown.

New York Times Final-Score Score: The Paper of Record goes 0-15 in its quixotic attempt to predict an exact final score, bringing the New York Times Final-Score Score to 0-58 for the season and 0-318 since TMQ began tracking.

Misery loves company: ESPN ran another of its one-of-these-has-gotta-be-right meta-forecasts, this time having seven gentlemen make seven overlapping sets of predictions. None was right. Moreover, the group came to unanimous conclusions about eight games. Of the eight unanimous predictions, three were wrong.

UB-TMQ: Last week’s competition asked readers to compose a short item that might have appeared in Tuesday Morning Quarterback.

Reader Chris Colter found a hidden indicator, that in week three those teams with more rushing attempts than their opponents were 13-0. More rushing attempts tend to come from being ahead in the second half, of course. Still, about as decisive as hidden indicators get.

George Paik won TMQ’s heart by noting of the newest Star Trek serial, “Thank God this show doesn’t have a holodeck.”

C. Hughes pointed out that Owner/Lunatic Dan Snyder of the Chesapeake Watershed Region Indigenous Persons appeared at the National Press Club and made weird rambling comments about how he’d always known Jeff George “was not going to work out” (Snyder fired last year’s coach for refusing to start George) and how the Washington sports press corps was unfairly criticizing him. (The Washington sports press corps is coddling the Owner/Lunatic to an astonishing degree.) Snyder, Hughes says, weirdly “went on for several minutes about how as an eight-year-old he ‘interviewed’ (his word) the former head of the Nazi Navy, Admiral Karl Donitz, whose name Snyder mispronounced as ‘Doughnuts.’ “

Tim Lowell pointed out that the date of last week’s column, when written in mmddyyyy format, was the palindrome 10022001, and that the last such date (the date was 12311321) fell in the year Dante Aligheri died, 1312, and “I think the Holy Roman Empire was playing the Prussians in the wild card round that day.” Finally Lowell noted that the next such palindrome falls in nine years, 01022010, which will be the year humanity contacts aliens, “according to Arthur C. Clarke, and Kurt Warner notwithstanding.”

James Denning of Studio City, Calif., (an actual place!) wins UB-TMQ and one of the stylish TMQ caps for pointing out that in the Eagles-Hawks and Rams-Mammals matchups, Donovan McNabb and Kurt Warner remained on the field long after the contests became blow-outs. Football, Denning cautioned, “isn’t played under baseball-style substitution rules,” so Eagles and Rams stars should have sat. Philadelphia seemed to pay the price in its sluggish upset loss to the Cardinals.

Readers are invited to try another round of UB-TMQ. Submit a brief commentary (100 words max) via The Fray, slugging it UB-TMQ. There’s no requirement to use TMQ lingo; just express yourself. The most interesting comments will be determined on a completely arbitrary basis, and a stylish TMQ cap may be awarded. Be sure to include your e-mail in the extremely unlikely event your submission is chosen.

For Those Who Came in Late: Confused about Tuesday Morning Quarterback obsessions and cryptic references? All will be explained next week in an “origin of TMQ” item. Also we will hear again from Gorzon the Inexplicable, sinister mastermind of Kurt Warner’s homeworld. Be afraid. Be somewhat afraid.