Monday, December 1, 2014

Two Reasons to Jump Off a Roof

I tried to get out and stop caring about football . . . I really did but there I was yesterday taking what was supposed to be a ten minute break from hanging Christmas lights off my roof to watch the Ravens closeout what should have been a solid win over the Chargers with about 273 positive playoff implications. But before I get to that, allow me to go off on a couple of seasonal tangents: 

(1) From a pure customer satisfaction standpoint, is there a commonly used product in existence that would rank lower than the Christmas light strand? Of the six strands I used last year, one burned-out three days after it came out of the box making the front of my house look like a guy with one eyebrow shaved-off. When I pulled them out yesterday, four of the six strands were toast. That's a 0.333 winning percentage making them less successful as a lighting product than Rich Kotite was as a football coach and that's saying something.

(2) At one point as I was crawling around on the shingles with the dog barking at me, I debated whether the price of the broken leg I would suffer from a controlled fall off my roof would be would be worth never having to hang Christmas lights again. Soon after that I realized that "enough money" to me would mean having enough money to pay someone else to hang my Christmas lights. My point is that I don't like hanging Christmas lights.

Anyway, back to the Ravens who took a ten point lead with 6:13 left to play in the 4th quarter only to see the Chargers drive 77 yards in about two and half minutes to cut the lead back to three. OK, no problem because Jacoby Jones returned the ensuing kickoff 72 yards to the Chargers 30 yard line where the Ravens took over with 3:40 to play. Two plays later and the Ravens had it first and ten at the Chargers 19 with 2:40 to play and the Chargers used their first timeout to stop the clock. Note they had saved all three timeouts for just such an occasion. You know, like the nice bottle of wine you save for a dinner party instead of busting it out during the tail-end a poker game (I think you see where I'm headed with this).

The Ravens then wisely ran it twice for a total of six yards and forced the Chargers to burn their last two timeouts so it was 3rd and 4 with 2:32 left to play and the Ravens coaches were faced with the classic game ending quandary. Do you (a) call your normal 3rd and 4 play which would be a pass and risk stopping the clock if it's incomplete or (b) run the ball and hope you get the first down while also running the clock down to the two minute warning whether you make it or not? There is no absolute right answer to that question, however, the Ravens chose incorrectly in this case because Flacco threw an incomplete pass on a very awkward looking play that actually had him do a full 360 after taking the snap (because quarterbacks who are six foot six and weigh 245 pounds are known for the grace of their f-cking pirouettes). It was not the coaches finest moment but it wasn't an epic gaff either.

Someone stop that man!
And we know it wasn't an epic gaff because we got to see one of those on the next play when the Ravens lined-up for the field goal and tried to get cute by having tight end Owen Daniels split-out at wide receiver near the sideline. Whatever gimmick they were trying to pull-off didn't work and, instead of just going ahead and kicking the 31 yard field goal, John Harbaugh used his second timeout of the half (he had already used his first one midway through the 4th quarter because it had apparently been burning a hole in his pocket).

The field goal was good putting the Ravens up by six but then San Diego got the ball back on their own 20 yard line and Philip Rivers had 2:22 to solve the complex puzzle that is the Ravens' 31st ranked pass defense. Turns-out he only needed 1:44 which was good news for the Ravens because it left them 38 seconds to drive for the game winning field goal. With a couple of well-used timeouts and Justin Tucker's cannon of a leg, that should have been plenty of time. Oh but wait. "Hey honey, where's that nice bottle of wine I bought last year". . . "You drank half of it with Donnie and Rich Tuesday night and spilled the rest on the carpet, dumbass". . . "Oh yeah."

Fittingly the game ended with Flacco completing a beautiful 24 yard pass to the Chargers' 43 yard line which would have given Tucker a very makeable shot from 60 yards-out but the receiver was tackled in bounds and the Ravens had already used their one remaining timeout. Game over.

Now I happen to think that John Harbaugh is one of the best coaches in football and I have the stats to back it up. His .639 regular season winning percentage only trails Jim Harbaugh, Bill Belichick and Mike McCarthy among active coaches and his .692 playoff winning percentage is the best among active coaches and the 5th best in league history among coaches with ten or more playoff games (he's behind some guys named Lombardi, Flores, Walsh and Gibbs whoever they are). And he's won a Super Bowl which means he's already assembled the first half of a Hall of Fame résumé.   

But man does he struggle with clock management. In case you thought Sunday's example of Harbaugh using second half timeouts like they were expiring gift cards was something new, check-out this article from 2009 showing the best and worst coaches at keeping their timeouts for the end of close games. The chart below shows how many times per close game a coach retained at least two timeouts for the end . . . scroll down to second from the bottom to find Harbaugh who, at that point, was leaving himself with one timeout or less at the end of 1 out of every 3 close games (courtesy of Greg Garber and 

Times Retained Timeouts
Close Games
Wade Phillips
Marvin Lewis
Mike Tomlin
Bill Belichick
Jim Mora
Tom Coughlin
Eric Mangini
John Fox
Norv Turner
Jeff Fisher
Lovie Smith
Jack Del Rio
Mike McCarthy
Mike Smith
Brad Childress
Gary Kubiak
Andy Reid
Tony Sparano
Jim Zorn
Ken Whisenhunt
Sean Payton
John Harbaugh

To put that into perspective, Harbaugh was worse than his mentor, Andy Reid, who last year blew a 38-10 third quarter lead against the Colts in the playoffs and is the worst clock manager of all-time. (He was generally regarded as the worst anyway but that game just solidified it). Unfortunately for Ravens fans, the apple does not fall far from the coaching tree as we seem to get treated to at least one game a year where we're left staring at the field or the TV like we're watching the final episode of The Sopranos all over again ("is that it? what in the hell just happened?). That's what I get for allowing myself to be suckered back in. I should have stayed on the roof. Or jumped off it. 

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