Solid Debut for Garrett
After a tumultuous week surrounding the Dallas Cowboys, many wondered how Jason Garrett would fare in his first game as a head coach, particularly considering the fact that the Cowboys were on the road facing what many believed to be the best team in the NFC, the New York Giants.
In the short term, Garrett appears to have worked wonders for the once 1-7 Cowboys. In the biggest surprise of the weekend, the Cowboys shocked the Giants 33-20, with 38-year-old Jon Kitna at quarterback, and I believe Garrett should get the bulk of the credit. For the first time this season, the Cowboys looked to me to be playing a smarter brand of football, while still playing inspired. Guys were flying around having fun, and we perhaps got a glimpse of what the Cowboys were “supposed to look like” this year.
There were many reports that Garrett had already begun making major changes throughout the week in practice, and it paid off on Sunday. For starters, Garrett held a team meeting on his first day after Wade Philips was fired, and he made it clear to the team that players would start being held more accountable than they had in the past. Garrett had a full padded practice this past Wednesday, something that Wade Philips would have never done at the midway point of the season. Garrett also began policing meeting start times, rather than allowing players to walk in a couple of minutes late.
Wade Philips was a players coach, and the players loved him, but when you have so many superstars in one locker room, I firmly believe that the man in charge must be someone who can enforce rules and discipline in order to get the most out of his team. Garrett is not a military style coach like Tom Coughlin, who I played for in New York, but he is someone who the players respect because he played the game and knows the game so well (Garrett was a backup QB in Dallas for 13 seasons, and was on two Super Bowl winning teams).
Garrett and I were QBs in New York for three seasons together, and I am not surprised by his early success. He is a football guy who is also very cerebral, and he understands how to get the most out of his players. I remember “JG” always smiling around the locker room and practice facility, and he would always bring a great energy to the guys around him.
At 2-7, it may be too late for the Cowboys to reach the playoffs, but that doesn't mean there's too little time for the Cowboys to continue improving before season's end. Who knows, if the Cowboys are able to keep it up, it may not be long before owner Jerry Jones makes Jason Garrett the next full time head coach of America's Team.
All Hail the Hail Mary
How often do you see Hail Mary's actually work? Only once in my life have I completed a Hail Mary in a game, and it happened in a high school championship game. At the end of the first half I rolled to my left near the opponent's 40-yard line and lofted a pass as high as I could, which ended up in the hands of my awaiting receiver Mike Brimacomb, in the back of the end zone.
That kind of thing doesn't happen often in the NFL, but the Jacksonville Jaguars were able to connect on a miraculous throw from QB David Garrard on Sunday to beat the Houston Texans on the final play of the game.
They call the play “Hail Mary” because essentially you are praying that somebody on your side will catch the football for an improbable TD, but there is more to the Hail Mary than just prayers and luck. Believe it or not, teams in the NFL actually practice the Hail Mary regularly.
Here's a simple breakdown of the play. As an offence, you are trying to get three different levels of receivers to one corner of the end zone, so that when the ball comes down, there are three sets of friendly hands to catch it. One receiver is to post up in the middle of the end zone, while one tries to line up on the back end, behind the middleman. Finally, there is “trailer” who will be late getting to the end zone so that he is at the goal line with his eyes on the action. The middleman's responsibility is to jump and catch the pass cleanly, but if he is unable to do that, then he is to knock the football back up into the air, much like a volleyball player, so that either the back-end man or the trailer can make the catch.
Quarterbacks are taught to accept the snap and buy as much time as possible in the pocket in order to allow the receivers enough time to run into the end zone and get in position. Quarterbacks must put a lot of air under the ball, while making sure it reaches the end zone - but you can't throw it too far or it might go out of bounds, and what good would that do?
And then you pray!
Defensively speaking, players are taught to knock the ball down, unless they are able to catch it cleanly. On Sunday, though, Texans CB Glover Quin decided to swat the ball down instead of simply catching it, and the ball ended up in the waiting hands of Jags receiver Mike Thomas for the game winning score! The offence would tell you that's just how it was designed – to have the trailer come in late and make a play on a bouncing ball, and there is a science to making the Hail Mary pass work.
By practicing the situation, teams can actually increase their odds of completing this last second chance play. That being said, Thomas was just the fourth player in NFL history to catch a pass of 50+ yards with 00:00 on the clock to win a game.
The Miami Dolphins may be in a world of trouble after losing two quarterbacks to injury during a 29-17 win at home against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. Chad Pennington left the game after injuring his right throwing shoulder on the second play, with reports that he will be done for the season. Then Chad Henne suffered a left knee injury that will be evaluated later this week. It is unclear whether Henne will be able to return this year.
That leaves the Dolphins with third string QB Tyler Thigpen, who started 11 games a year ago for the Kansas City Chiefs under similar conditions, and actually played quite well, passing for 2,608 yards, 18 TDs and 11 INTs. He also rushed for three scores.
With the Dolphins sitting at 5-4 and battling for what appears to be wild card spot in the playoffs, they will need Thigpen to come up big down the stretch. It has been reported that the Dolphins have contacted former first overall pick JaMarcus Russell to schedule a workout, while other names, including Jeff Garcia and Daunte Culpepper, both of whom are playing in the UFL, may be on the horizon as possible emergency back up options.
Regardless of who's playing behind center for the Dolphins, this would be a great time for the running game to really take off and alleviate some of the pressure from Thigpen. The Dolphins had been struggling with their “wildcat” package up until this past Sunday, and now would be an opportune time for Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams to raise their level of play.
Does Tyler Thigpen have what it takes to navigate the Dolphins past a Chicago Bears defence that is allowing only 16 points per game on Thursday night? Stay tuned.
Running up the Score
After losing to the Denver Broncos 49-29 this past Sunday, Kansas City Chiefs head coach Todd Haley refused to shake hands with Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels after the game. Haley may have been annoyed with the fact that the Broncos still had their starters in the game with a 32 point lead in the fourth quarter. Maybe I am just old school, or maybe it's because I was coached by Steve Spurrier in college, but I have never had a problem with team leaving starters in the game late and trying to score as many points as possible.
This is the National Football League. If you are the Kansas City Chiefs, and you don't like the opposition running the score up on you: stop them. Just because the Chiefs decided to pull their starters from the game early and “surrender” to the opponent, by no means does that mean the Broncos to reciprocate by taking their starters out of the game.
Heading into that game, the Broncos were a 2-6 team that needed a lot of extra work. On top of that, the Broncos only attempted four passes in the fourth quarter! All of the backups playing late in the game for the Chiefs are paid players, too. Its okay for them to take the field and stop what the Broncos offence is doing.
Haley has since apologized for not shaking hands with McDaniels following the game, as well he should. That was bogus. This is the NFL.