Del Rio's failed Pittsburgh Lite strategy
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Oct 18, 2010
Is Jacksonville coach Jack Del cool as an autumn breeze or more clueless than Inspector Clouseau?
We're guessing it's the latter for a coach shivering frigid on the cold seat (much more uncomfortable than the hot seat) and apparently unaware of the precarious nature of his position.
Consider the situation Monday night, on the way to a dispiriting 30-3 home loss to Tennessee:
It's the start of the fourth quarter. The Jaguars trail 23-3 and are in desperate need of three scores to keep pace in the top-heavy AFC South, where .500 spells last place.
Time to damn the torpedoes! Sling the ball downfield and pray for a big play or two to go your way. A big pass play. A lucky bounce on a kickoff or with a turnover. Boom! You can claw back into the game. It's magic time. The season has been saved! Certainly, stranger things have happened than score three fourth-quarter touchdowns.
At least that'd be our strategy – and probably yours, too.
But Del Rio saw things a different way: in his eyes, it was time for a plodding 16-play, 8-minute drive that sends Maurice Jones-Drew into the heart of the defense on every other play and wastes virtually the entire fourth quarter. We understand that Del Rio has tried for years to build a sort of Pittsburgh Lite – a team that wins by running the ball and playing tough defense.You know, a team that wins the manly, old-fashioned way.
But he had three quarters to implement that Pittsburgh Lite strategy effectively and failed. Hell, he's had eight years to implement that Pittsburgh Lite strategy effectively and failed (two playoff appearances, one playoff victory).
At one point in what should have been a final desperate drive, the Jaguars ran the ball seven straight times. Granted, the first was a scramble by quarterback Trent Edwards.
But then came three straight runs into the heart of the defense by Maurice Jones-Drew that netted nine yards, a second QB sneak on the drive by Edwards to convert a 4th and 1, then two more dives by Jones-Drew. Three of his runs in that series of plays came with the quarterback operating out of the shotgun.
Isn't 4th and 1 the exact perfect time to take a shot into the end zone – at least for a daring coach, and certainly in a moment of extreme desperation? The defense is packed in, hoping to end the drive and your hopes right there. Perfect time for a desperate Jaguar to pounce!
Not for Del Rio: it was just another chance to pound away up the middle.
Jacksonville's loyal fan was beside himself in the stands. No, seriously. The camera kept showing Jacksonville's loyal fan – and he was not happy. Even the emotionless arbiter of all things pigskin, the Cold, Hard Football Facts, were frustrated by the utter lack of urgency, by the seeming willingness of Del Rio to give up on the game, give up on the season, maybe give up on his head coaching career with one dive play after another.
Somewhere up in the great big coaching box in the sky, even Woody Hayes cringed at the plodding effort to not get back in the game.
We understand that starting QB David Garrard was hurt (concussion) and that you put the ball in the hands of back-up Edwards – a quarterback who is so ineffective that he was waived by the pathetic, winless Bills last month.
We understand that Edwards hands out interceptions (two Monday night) like a CHFF reader passing around packets of free drugs outside the local junior high school. We understand that depending on him to lead you back is not a desirable option.
But, at this point in the game, counting on Edwards to lead you back is your ONLY option. In which case, the obvious question for Del Rio and Jaguars management is this: Why, oh why, are the hopes of your franchise left in the hands of the QB tandem of Garrard-Edwards?
What, Ryan Leaf and Todd Marinovich weren't available?
Of course, as you know, the main reason Del Rio's Pittsburgh Lite strategy doesn't work is because he's never had the secret ingredient that made Pittsburgh's own Original Recipe so successful: namely, guys named Terry Bradshaw (four Super Bowl victories) and Ben Roethlisberger (two Super Bowl victories). The winning formula in the NFL is all about the quarterback.
Del Rio finally put the ball in Edwards' hands with the defense packed in at its own 1 yard line, with the available real estate limited to a 53-yard by 11-yard stretch of turf that offers few passing lanes, even to the Peyton Mannings and Tom Bradys or Bradshaws and Big Bens of the world.
Certainly, it's not going to be easy for Edwards to find an open receiver in this situation, either.
And it wasn't. His pass to Tiquan Underwood was picked off by Vincent Fuller in the end zone. That's right. The plodding 8-minute, 16-play drive failed to yield a single point. The Jaguars might as well have just tossed it up for grabs on the second play of the drive and hoped for the best. At least they would have got the ball back with a reasonable shot to score again.
Not this time, though: there were 6 minutes left the clock, but the game was over, both physically and psychologically. The deflated Jaguars defense took a dive on the following drive: the Titans ripped off 80 yards on nine straight rushing plays, punctuating the evening with a 35-yard TD run by Chris Johnson.
The architect of the failed Pittsburgh Lite strategy must have admired the way the Titans shoved it down the throat of their opponent in the fourth quarter.
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