When it comes to football, and other activities conducted by public figures, it’s easy to think that you know better, or would do better, than the people who are doing the actual jobs. I live in an upscale apartment complex in Tallahassee, and I always laugh when I see maybe the worst-looking truck in the whole 300-unit place, and it’s got a sticker on the back window that says INCOMPETENT, with the familiar Obama "O."
You may not agree with things that the President does, or says, or believes, but if you’re driving that broke-ass truck, I’m pretty sure you’re not qualified to judge a president’s competence. Your personal worldview isn’t, and can’t possibly be, a reasonable litmus test for competence, which simply means ability to complete a specific task.
It was really easy for people of my worldview to perceive George W. Bush as being stupid, due to the way he spoke, and to conflate that perceived stupidity with incompetence. The evidence was that he did a lot of things we didn’t like, okay? I know that I am smart, and I wouldn't do what he did, so he must not be smart. Only smart people can be competent. Therefore, George Bush isn't competent. It was easy for liberals, with their highfalutin college degrees, and ability to correctly pronounce polysyllabic words (such as polysyllabic) to make this logical leap.
Dubya had every right to laugh off his haughty liberal critics, though, just the same as Barack Obama can rightly roll his eyes at the mouth-breathers who put silly stickers on their trucks. No matter how smart you are, no matter how educated, you don’t have any idea what it’s like to be President, and you’re not capable of evaluating the competence of a person doing a job that you don’t, and couldn't possibly, fully understand.
This kind of behavior sometimes gets called Monday morning quarterbacking, but I think that deep down, most of us can’t really imagine ourselves as being qualified to play QB at the NFL level. It takes really rare physical attributes to do so, and it’s a huge leap of imagination for most of us. It seems to be that it’s easier to imagine being President of the United States. Theoretically, anybody can be one, right?
You know what’s really easy to imagine? Being an NFL head coach is really easy to imagine. Everybody has played some football, or played Madden, or watched football on TV, or read articles by people like me, and they feel like they’ve got the vocab. It’s kind of a man thing to imagine ourselves as leaders of other men, whether we have any skills in that area or not. And we’re good strategists too – on Saturday morning, we script our stops on our errand list in an order which makes sense.
No dear, we’re going to stop at the bank before the grocery store, because you have to make a U-turn down the way to get to the grocery store, and it’s on the way back toward Home Depot which is stop number three, after which, we’ll hit PetSmart, and finish at the dry cleaner’s, before heading home prior to noon to start watching college football for the next twelve hours. Ready…BREAK!
Twitter has changed the way in which information reaches people, and if they ever figure out how to make enough revenue to afford sufficient server capacity, they’ll be onto something. When I watch Broncos games, I sit in the man-cave, and the game plays on a TV on the wall. On my computer screen is Tweetdeck, and a Google Talk window with Doug, TJ, and Doc. That allows me to watch what’s happening, discuss it with the other guys, and also keep track of what’s happening on Twitter.
Depending on who you follow on Twitter, you can really get an instant sense of the wisdom of crowds around a certain event. With a Broncos game, I have a good set of probably 100 fans I follow, along with all of the pertinent Broncos media, and most of the national football media. When there’s a nationally televised Broncos game, those people are all over the commentary, along with the locals.
Let me tell you, Monday night was the biggest shift in sentiment during one three-hour game that I’ve ever seen. In the first half, my personal Twitter cross-section (hereafter “the crowd”) was all kinds of critical of John Fox and his staff. I saw numerous calls for Fox’s firing, and as usual, there was specific criticism of the play-calling. Fans only like run plays when they work, of course. On defense, if the Broncos play coverage and give up a completion, they should have blitzed, and if they blitz and give up a completion, they should have covered. Anybody who ever played Madden knows that.
After thirty minutes, the Broncos trailed 24-0, and the wisdom of the crowd was that it was all John Fox’s fault. What does this guy bring to the table anyway? He doesn’t call any plays. Why won’t they let Manning throw it more? He needs to blitz more. And cover more. And teach the return guys to secure the ball.
Do you know what I said to Doug and TJ at halftime? Watch as I block-quote myself:
F$%^ it. The Broncos need to try to play better, and see what happens.
At that moment, their Win Probability was 0.01. What I really meant was that playing well in the second half could provide some decent progress to build on during the bye. The Broncos could improve their proficiency in some areas by gaining reps at game speed, that kind of thing.
Well, as the game started swinging, and then went completely off the rails for the Chargers, the crowd changed their tune. They could always come back to ripping Fox later, but holy crap, look at the Chargers. They might be getting Norved here! Following the first Broncos touchdown, here was me in the Gchat, in which G’s were chatting.
COME ON NORVAL! GO CONSERVATIVE!
I consider a conservative mindset to be the precursor to screwing up, of course. Norv obliged briefly, and honestly, it seemed like it was working okay, as the Chargers burned six minutes off the clock, before Elvis Dumervil broke Jeromey Clary and Philip Rivers off a little something, and sent Tony Carter off to the races.
At that point, the entire energy of the game changed. It had been hugely in favor of the Chargers in the first half, and for the rest of the game, it felt like an orange tidal wave. The Broncos were suddenly flying around with urgency, and the Bolts looked bewildered. Norv actually went away from being conservative - the Chargers only ran the ball six times in the second half. Alas, the uptick in aggressiveness played into the Broncos' hands - as Ross Tucker said on Sirius this morning, they'd have been better off kneeling on every play, than doing what they did.
Football is a game of energy and confidence, and Monday Night’s energy pretty much mirrored the Win Probability graph. Twitter was going crazy about the Norving that was underway. San Diego-based Jim Trotter from SI was letting everybody know in polite terms that the whole of the 619’s buttholes were puckering, because they’d seen this act before.
The conventional wisdom is that this is what happens to Norv Turner-coached teams. They get off to good starts, then go conservative, and let games get away from them. Norv is a good coordinator, but shouldn’t be a head coach. Lots of people who have no idea what they’re talking about are certain of this.
The Broncos spit the bit in the first half Monday night, and the Chargers way outdid them in the second. I’ve just spent 1,200 words setting up my key point, hopefully in entertaining fashion, which is that neither bit-spitting fit was personally attributable to John Fox or Norv Turner. They were caused by events (known in football parlance as “turnovers”) that are outside a coach’s control during a game. Nobody coaches their players to screw up.
- The Trindon Holliday muff is on him personally, and the only way you can blame Fox is for the decision to use him over the much more reliable Jim Leonhard. Who could ever have seen that shocking muff coming?
- The Omar Bolden fumble was the result of a play that began in a disjointed way, as the kickoff bounced short. Bolden fielded it late, and sloppily, and never got it secured well enough by the time he got tackled. The coaches will want to work on that with Bolden, but they sure didn’t teach him to screw up like that.
- The Quentin Jammer interception/TD was on Matthew Willis. Manning saw a double A-gap blitz, with an off corner to the short side of the field. In any offense that uses sight adjustments (meaning Erhardt-Perkins and most West Coast variants, but not Air Coryell), the universal read there is to run a hitch to that short side. Manning threw that hitch to a spot; Willis saw Jammer squat, and thought it would be much cooler to run a 9 route. His job was to hitch it up, get to the spot, catch the ball, and take the impending hit from the squatting CB. #FAIL
- On the first Rivers fumble, Dumervil pwned Clary, and Rivers was a beat late getting the ball out, despite feeling the pressure. The Chargers could use more six- and seven-man protection, and against the Broncos, Randy McMichael did stay in a fair bit, but they mostly prefer to deal with pressure by having a RB in good check-down position at all times. I’ve heard Rivers say before that he likes five guys in the pattern, and that he can deal with extra rushers himself. Most good and great QBs will tell you the same thing, and it’s a reasonable strategic decision to go with that concept. In this case, Rivers and Clary got beat, though.
- On Tony Carter’s interception, it was a solid decision, but Rivers underthrew Robert Meacham to the post, Carter was playing trail technique, and got the football. Norv sure didn’t coach Rivers to make a bad throw there.
- On the first Chris Harris interception, Eddie Royal did an Eddie Royal thing, and failed to get across the CB’s face. I don’t care how much inside leverage the guy has; if the call is a slant, the WR must either get there, or run over the CB trying. I’ve seen Royal screw both Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow exactly like that, and it’s nice to see him do it to Rivers. As my brother texted Monday night, it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.
- On the second Chris Harris interception, Rivers made a bad read, and a bad throw. The route by Royal was actually fine, but Harris was all over it, and Rivers never should have gone there. No coach would teach a QB to throw an out late against a CB who was squatting on the out, not even Norv.
- On the second strip-sack by Dumervil, he once again physically whipped a guy who wasn’t as good as he was. If you want to blame anybody for Dumervil and Von Miller beating on the San Diego tackles, blame A.J. Smith for constructing a team that relies on Mike Harris and Jeromey Clary.
As has been the case all season with the Broncos, the coaches didn’t cause their problems. It’s been all about execution by players this season, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. It’s possible for coaches to make specific decisions that get their teams beat, and while Fox has made a few dubious decisions here and there, none of them have directly cost the Broncos a game. I think it would be very hard to make the case that any of them have even indirectly done so.
I’ve said this many times, but Fox isn’t a technocratic guy. He’s a fundamentals guy, one who demands physicality and soundness, and who motivates players to give high effort. He’s pretty much the anti-Shanahan or -McDaniels, and it makes sense that the Broncos hired him, coming after many years of doing it the other way.
Personally, I like the physicality I see from the Broncos, and the fighting spirit, too. They’ve gotten down a bunch this year, and always kept fighting. The mistakes that the players have been making are all correctable, and the bad luck (losing nine of nine fumbles) can’t help but eventually regress to the mean. There are other coaches who I could (and did) make a case for, but I’m fine with Fox, and I think you can absolutely win a Super Bowl with him.
As for poor Norv, I think Monday night was probably the beginning of the end for him, and that his eventual firing is undeserved, at least based on one night’s showing. I think Norv has two big problems that are plaguing him:
- The players on his team are frontrunners and bullies. When things are going well, they’re all chest-out and can blow a team out. When somebody hits them in the mouth though, they fade, and spit the bit. You have to acquire players who come pre-loaded with mental toughness, in my opinion; I’ve never seen a coach impart true toughness to a player who didn’t already have it.
- The talent that San Diego has had over the last six or seven years has been overrated by idiots in the media like John Clayton. While it was always among the top 8-12 teams in the NFL during that time, there were quite a few years when it was touted as being the best, and that wasn’t accurate. They had a puncher’s chance every year, and never landed the knockout blow, but they were never the 2007 Patriots, and that’s what they were essentially portrayed to be, just about every year. That makes playing up to reasonable expectations (ie. losing in the Divisional Playoffs or AFC Championship game) seem like a failure, and it hurts the reputation of a coach.
I wouldn’t hire Norv Turner to be my head coach, because I don’t think his demeanor fits what I want in that position. That's a matter of Ted's personal preference, though, and it doesn’t mean that he can’t be successful. If one or two things had gone differently, particularly with injuries, he could have earned a Super Bowl ring as a head coach, and the whole narrative around him would be different.
I believe that fans and media tend to be negative forces to the establishment of success by NFL franchises, particularly when that success isn’t instantaneous. The owners who will let a guy like Gary Kubiak struggle for multiple years before finally getting his program set up are rare. Bob McNair had to ignore a lot of negativity in order to do the right thing, and now he's reaping the benefits.
If you’re howling about firing a coach, stop and consider what you’re doing for a moment. If you think he’s incompetent, and you’re being all absolutist about it, I think you’re incompetent to make that judgment. If you disagree with a tactic here or there, and you think maybe a change would be beneficial, but you’re not 100% convinced, we can talk. Being a bit wishy-washy and open-minded is appropriate when you know that you don’t have the full picture.
It’s the difference between being the clown who is dead set on invading Eye-Ran and killin' them Ay-rabs without knowing anything about the place, and the intelligent and informed person who thinks it’s probably unfavorable for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, but there are a lot of really good reasons why invasion could backfire, and be detrimental to U.S. interests. Everybody is not an expert on coaching football, economics, or the geopolitical implications of invading Iran - this is what Charlie Pierce was getting at in Idiot America. As in all things in American life, it’s amazing how the most informed person tends to be the least certain one. That's my word, friends. I'll see you in the coming days.