Two of the more repeated quotes from Josh McDaniels came from the Week 4 game versus the Dallas Cowboys. McDaniels had been wearing a microphone during that game and the following two quotes were noted:
To QB Kyle Orton: "I'm not talking about my bad anymore. Just make the play!
Right after that, to the entire offensive unit: "Get in here! When we quit (bleeped) around and just do our job and quit worrying about everybody else's job and doing your own thing. That's what's killing us right now! Do! Your! Job! and quit making (bleeped) up. We haven't seen what we can do because it doesn't even look like a football team out there. Let's Go!
These two quotes became a recurring theme during the 2009 season. In our first installment of this series, we looked at the truism of keeping your eyes on the ball. In the second, the focus was the importance of pocket awareness. Game #3 looked at the defense and controlling the gaps in the line of scrimmage. Last time, our attention was on penalties and their effect on the game. The New England game started the 2nd quarter of the 2009 season and matched student against his mentor. This game showed that "Timing is Everything."
More after the jump
It is Sunday, October 11, 2009, at 2:16pm, in Invesco Field at Mile High, in Denver. There is a cloudy sky, a temperature of 30 degrees with the wind chill bringing it down to 26 degrees, and a relative humidity of 72%. The wind is out of the northwest at 4mph. Eleven men, dressed in mustard and brown football uniforms are huddled at their own 15 yard line. As they break the huddle, TE Tony Scheffler, LT Ryan Clady, LG Ben Hamilton, C Casey Weigmann, RG Chris Kuper, RT Ryan Harris, and TE Daniel Graham all fan out to form the offensive line at the 20 yard line. WR Brandon Marshall trots off to the right side of the line as WR Jabbar Gaffney heads left. RB Knowshon Moreno takes his spot in the backfield as QB Kyle Orton heads for the center.
But wait, Orton changes direction to his left, calling out instructions to Gaffney and motioning for Gaffney to move the right side of the formation. As Gaffney head to the indicated area, Orton continues to trot to the left, and sets up in a WR's position, leaving Moreno alone in the backfield. After a moment, Orton begins jogging back towards the center, as if he's suddenly realized he's in the wrong place. Without warning, the center snaps the ball to Moreno. Everyone on the offense -- except Moreno, of course -- throws a block on a defender. Orton turns upfield forcing the DB on that side to come up and cover him. Moreno breaks one tackle at the line of scrimmage, then bursts through a hole created between Harris and Graham, stiff-arms a second defender and gains 11 yards before being tackle.
In the New England game, the Broncos showcased their Wild Horses scheme. But that is not the timing to which the title refers. Denver ran the Wild Horses on 5 of the first 6 plays of the game. Those 6 plays saw the Broncos move 50 yards down the field. Then New England, in apparent defensive disarray, called a time out. But was this really a case of a team confused and in disarray, or an example of using the one of the two non-player driven tools available to a coach -- time outs and challenges?
Time Out #1
1st Quarter: Denver had driven 50 yards up the field using that strange scheme now known as the Wild Horses. New England called a time out. Following the time out, Denver's next play -- a run -- was stuffed for a loss of 1 yard. The subsequent play resulted in an incomplete pass (though in all fairness, it must be noted that the officiating crew missed the fact that the Patriots defender had grabbed hold of Stokley's jersey and forced him to break stride, and thus, not be able to get to the ball). Denver's drive ended in a missed FG. New England followed up by marching down the field for a touchdown. In this case, New England made effective use of a time out as a tool.
Time Out #2
1st Quarter: Following the Patriots touchdown, Denver ran three plays -- a run for 3 yards, a run for 12 yards and an 8 yard pass. The pass play ended in a fumble that was recovered by New England. The defense had just been forced to endure a 57 yard touchdown drive. In order to give them time for a bit more rest, McDaniels chose to challenge the fumble ruling. This makes sense. He could have just called a time out to give them that extra moment of rest, but why not also see if he couldn't get the ball back for his own offense. The play was ultimately upheld, but following the challenge, the defense rose to the occasion giving up only 12 yards and forcing New England to settle for a field goal. Even though he lost the challenge, McDaniels' ploy took some of the momentum away from New England, thus making it an effective use of the tool.
Time Outs #3 & #4
1st Quarter: Denver's first play following the field goal was an 8 yard pass. The next play, a run, netted 0 yards. On the third down play, the offense appeared to either have the wrong personnel on the field, or to have the players in the wrong formation. Denver called a time out to rectify the situation. As the Broncos lined up for the next play, New England called a time out. The 3rd & 2 pass play following the Patriots time out gained only a single yard. Denver had called a time out to position themselves for a better attack on the New England defense, but New England trumped them by calling their own time out.
Time Out #5
2nd Quarter: New England had gotten the ball on a touchback during a punt. The Patriots marched from their own 20 to the Broncos 41 yard line. On 1st & 10, Brady was able to elude a strong blitz to throw the ball away. On 2nd & 10, Brady apparently hit Chris Baker for a 3 yard gain. Even if they gained no additional yardage, they would have a shot at a long field goal. Denver challenged the ruling of a catch and won, keeping the Patriots in the 50-55 yard range for a field goal. On the next play, a 3 yard run was nullified when one of the Patriots threw a Broncos lineman to the ground after the play. That 15 yard penalty forced the Patriots to punt. On the drive following the punt, the Broncos marched 90 yards for a touchdown that cut the Patriots lead to 3 points. This was another case of McDaniels using a challenge like a time out to blunt the Patriots momentum.
Time Out #6
4th Quarter: New England was driving early in the 4th. They had gained 17 yards before being stopped, only to have an offsides penalty on a punt give them a first down. They picked up 12 more yards. Brady just missed a long bomb which would have netted a touchdown. On 3rd and 8 from Denver's 48, Brady called time out. It can be assumed that he saw something in the defense that he felt would not work with the play that had been called. This time, however, the strategy failed as Champ Bailey broke up a pass intended for Wes Welker.
Time Out #7
4th Quarter: New England punted the ball, and Eddie Royal waved everyone away from the ball. It was subsequently downed at the Denver 2. Their first pass was incomplete. The 2nd was a 13 yard strike to Gaffney which was fumbled after he hit the ground. New England challenged the play and lost. The strategy did not work for New England this time, as Denver not only retained possession but marched down the field for the tying touchdown.
Time Out #8
4th Quarter: New England gained 7 yards on their first two plays following Denver's touchdown. Denver called a time out. The next Patriots play was an incomplete pass, followed by a punt.
Time Out #9
4th Quarter: Denver had positioned themselves for a game winning field goal after recovering a New England fumble at the Patriots 45 yard line with 1:37 left in the game. The first play was a 4 yard run. The second was a pass that lost 3 yards. New England called a time out at 22 seconds to keep Denver from simply running down the clock and attempting a long field goal. The strategy worked as Orton was sacked for a loss of 6 yards on the 3rd down play, taking away any shot at a field goal.
Time Out #10
Overtime: After Denver picked up 23 yards and 2 first downs on 3 plays -- moving the ball from the Denver 20 to the Denver 43, New England called a time out. This strategy failed to break the Broncos momentum as they gained 32 yards on the next 5 plays.
Time Out #11
Overtime: Denver called a time out after a long pass to Royal fell incomplete. There appears to have been two reasons for this time out call: (1)On the play, Royal had become tangled up with the defender, and since reviews had to be initiated in the Replay Booth, McDaniels may have wanted to give the officials an opportunity to look to see if a Pass Interference call was warranted. (2)McDaniels may have wanted to talk to his staff and the offense to decide whether to continue to try to pick up yards, or attempt a 45 yard field goal on 3rd & 8. Following the time out, a Defensive Offsides penalty turned an incomplete pass into a 5 yard gain, giving Denver a 3rd & 3 at the New England 22. The next 3rd down play was an incomplete pass. So although the Denver drive stalled, the time out may have played a role in breaking the defense's concentration.
Time Out #12
Overtime: As Denver lined up to attempt a 41 yard field goal, New England called time out -- most likely in an attempt to "ice" the kicker. The strategy failed as Prater kicked the game winning field goal.
What we saw in the New England game was both coaches using their time outs and challenges effectively. Both sides had moments in which the strategy worked and the rhythm and momentum of the opposing team was disrupted. Both sides had attempts that did little to slow down the opposition. Overall, we can see how time outs and challenges when used effectively can assist a team in winning a game.