Obviously the offense was not the big problem Monday, and the play-calling was a significant improvement over Dan Henning... nonetheless, there were a few troubling things that I hope are not repeated.
Some may consider these valid criticisms, some may consider them nitpicks. That's fine. Either way, I think they are worth talking about because in many other games they could easily have been the difference between winning and losing. Possibly even this one if you look at the big picture.
The defense deserves most of the blame for this loss, but there were ways in which the offense made it tougher on them and that should be recognized before we give the D ALL of the blame.1. Stop running Reggie Bush up the middle. I'm not saying that we should never run him up the middle, but when we do it should surprise the defense. I don't care about the semantic definition of a "feature" or "every down" back - it is a gross misuse of Reggie Bush that offers very, very high risk for a very low reward. The percentage of plays run right into the line that Reggie Bush would turn into big runs versus Larry Johnson or Hilliard is negligible. The chance, though, that Bush could get injured or worn down is greatly increased with that nonsense.
If you'll indulge me in a bit of applicable history:
Back in the day, I was a big fan of Herschel Walker. He is, of course, the subject of one of the worst trades in NFL history, but the part not often talked about is that the trade seemed even worse in retrospect because Minnesota completely wasted him.
Not many people remember that Herschel Walker was DOMINANT in Dallas. In the three years right before the trade (his first three years in the NFL) he had 1574, 1606 and 2019 yards from scrimmage. In the season right before the trade he averaged 94.6 yards rushing per game, and added another 505 total yards receiving. I believe he led the entire NFL in total yards from scrimmage. He was a bona fide stud.
He was never that good again. And it had nothing to do with age, and little to do with supporting casts... it was because the Vikings were absolute morons about how they used him.
He was a back who thrived in space. I watched probably every snap he had with Dallas, and they used him wisely. Laterals, sweeps and screens. He was unstoppable. Laterals, sweeps and screens. Rinse. Repeat. You got him to the sides and he abused teams.
So what did the idiots running the Vikings do? Ran him straight up the middle almost every time. At least for as long as I could tolerate watching the waste.
And Walker was incredibly strong and durable, unlike Bush...
My point is that Bush has special talents and they are all but wasted running him up the middle. Add in the increased injury risk and this repeated play calling is idiotic. Save running him up the middle for draw plays, at least.
2. 1st and goal...
3. 3rd downs.
We were 2-14 on 3rd down conversions. That's mighty bad. I'm not saying that's all on the play calling, but it often didn't help.
We continued on of my least favorite Henning trends - passing on third down for less yardage than you need. This happened a few times last night (and a million times last season). Twice in the first part of the game we were at 3rd and 4 and threw a pass for 3 yards. That reversed touchdown only happened because on 3rd and 7 we threw for less than 7.
Other times (because of an early success) we would throw for far deeper, lower percentage passes on 3rd down, creating the opposite problem.
Great quarterbacks with good play calling get third downs by throwing the highest percentage pass that is going to get the first down.
4. The last one is really important and largely on Sparano. He is the one that is supposed to be looking at the big picture, taking the offense and defense into account.
When your defense is as gassed as ours was, it is imperative that you do not go three and out or throw deep and try to score quickly, because even if you do, it won't matter.
At the point when he realized how tired the D was, Sparano should have been ordering Daboll to get first downs, not go deep.
This was particularly evident at the end of the 3rd quarter. After a NE drive that was only 3:26, but almost all no-huddle, 10 plays, it was very clear the D was gassed. So what did we do? 3 and out, with 2nd and 3rd downs both being deep passes - after a 1st down 7 yard gain by Bush. We were only down by 11 at this point, by the way.
So after our 33 second (!) drive, the Patriots did another three and a half minute no-huddle drive for a field goal.
If we needed proof that Bill B was smarter than us Monday night, HE noticed our own defense's weariness and attacked relentlessly in the no huddle and we either didn't notice or weren't smart enough to do anything about it.
I think that's it.
I know there was a lot of good stuff on offense, but this post is about the not so good stuff. A 3rd down conversion rate of 14% should set off alarm bells.
Thanks for reading if you got this far.