Tuesday, February 5, 2008

What no one has mentioned about the Super Bowl: 4 things

1. Plaxico's Touchdown

How is it that the Pats' Defensive Coordinator Dan Pees, or better yet, defensive genius Bill Belichick has escaped blame? Anyone who's watched the Giants play this year (ahem, presumably the NE coaching staff) should've known that they love to throw the jump ball to Plax in the corner. How could Pees and Belichick have called a red zone defense that left Hobbs (5'9") matched up against Plax (6'5") with no help over the top? Take a look at the replay. With its all-out blitz and throw from off the back foot it closely resembles this game-winner from last year.*

There's the oft-uttered line about how a coach is limited in that they don't step on the field and thus the best they can do is put their player in a position to win. Well, this one's on the coaches, the genius Belichick included.

*The audio might be NSFW

2. Where was the Patriots' running game?

Sure, maybe no one is talking about it because they think that since the Pats didn't run much all season, it's no surprise. Yet Belichick's reputation has been based on his ability to game plan for anything and everything. Maroney had his 2nd and 3rd highest carry totals and yardage totals in the Pats two playoff games, so them being one-dimensional isn't a valid explanation. So then, where WAS the running game?

Ten of the Pats sixteen carries came in the 1st half and four of them came on their twelve-play opening drive (which, by the way, produced a TD). In the second half they carried only six times. Maroney ran those six carries for 24 yards, a solid average, so it wasn't that the running game was ineffective. Clearly, it wasn't just a matter of game planning not to run, but rather a deliberate choice to abandon the run.

OK, despite what the numbers suggest, let's assume they're misleading, give the Pats the benefit of the doubt, and presume that they indeed had never intended to run the ball. Perhaps they decided that because when they played the Giants in week 17 their running game was shut down so effectively (26 carries for 44 yards), that it wasnt worth pursuing this time around. But we all know that the passing game is about quality and the running game is about quantity. Even if they wouldn't pick up significant yardage, wouldn't a bigger running game at least keep the defense honest? Wouldn't it have been a little easier on Brady to hit his targets if he wasn't on his back all day?

It's as if they didn't consider any solutions to fixing they're sieve of a line other than some WR screens. Sure, yes, those worked well, but why didn't they run more draws for example? According to Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders,* the Pats ran more draws than any team in the league, and the Giants had been abysmal at stopping the draw all year (fitting for a pass-rush team, Schatz points out). Yet in the SB the Pats only ran one draw! (It went for 15 yards, but the net gain was only three because of a hold).

And finally, they only called only one run on their final scoring drive. It's tough to argue with play-calling that resulted in a go-ahead 4th quarter TD, but maybe a run play or two on that last drive would've ticked off those precious seconds that were still left for Eli. Or better yet, if they hadn't abondoned the run to begin with, maybe they wouldn't have needed that drive to pull ahead. Maybe they could've been killing the clock, lead in hand.

*Schatz doesn't say so on the website, but rather during Bill Simmons' 1/31 podcast, around the 16 minute mark.

3. The Fumble

Does anyone remember the Eli Manning fumble? I remember it as the Ahmad Brashaw fumble, but the official box score says otherwise, so we'll go with the former. The reason you may not remember it is because it hasn't been shown among any of the highlights. (I can't speak for regional Boston coverage, but here's the NFL network for example).

Let me refresh your memory: middle of the second quarter, Manning and Bradshaw botch the handoff exchange at the NYG 32 yard line, New England player falls on it, Bradshaw jumps on top and wrestles the ball away, Giants retain possession. The interesting thing about the recovery is that it wasn't your standard pile-on where who knows what kind of tickling and pinching happens, and the ball exchanges hands an unknowable amount of times. No, in this case Bradshaw pounced on the defender and snatched the ball away from him while on top and in plain view. It was so blatant that I was surprised by the call, and even more surprised that Buck and Aikman didn't debate whether or not Belichick would challenge. (It's more understandable why Belichick in fact didn't challenge, as it's very possible that the evidence wouldn't have been indisputable. Again, I say "possible" because I haven't seen the play since).

I'm not saying it should have been Patriots ball, it might have been the right call. I'm just pointing out that the absence of the play from the highlight reel (every highlight reel!) is just as conspicuous as Bradshaw's grab. It's seems a curious production decision, as if every producer was concerned about possibly stirring up controversy, as if they didn't want to taint the Giants' day. Not surprisingly, I can't find the clip anywhere on youtube and the only thing a google search turned up is a mention by a fan on a giants message board, "we got extremely lucky."

4. Plax's Heart

Maybe the biggest story that no one is talking about is Plax's effort, not necessarily just in the Super Bowl, but throughout the year.

Plax has played the entire season with a dislocated ankle. He's played large parts of the season with a hurt back and more recently a sprained MCL. He would heal during the week, sitting out practice, and then play on Sunday. After the loss to Minnesota, Sean Salsbury called for the Giants to sit him because he was hurting the offesnive chemistry. And at the time, this was a reasonable argument, as Salsbury made the case that it usually took Eli and Plax the first half of a game to get in sync, and by then it was sometimes too late.

Of course the Giants didn't sit him, and while he practiced but twice since week two, Plax played in every single game this year. His statline: 70 receptions for 1,025 and 12 TDs.

So why doesn't he get any love? Is it because he's considered flashy? Nah, not flashy; no one would put Plax in the same boat as Chad Johnson and TO, but the image of him coming off the field and instantly making sure that his visor is cocked to the side does stir doubts about focus. Irreverent maybe? There's the history of an ostensible lack of effort. Maybe it's a little of all of the above. After all, Pittsburgh's Post-Gazette felt the need to put a positive spin on his tenure with the Steelers after he left.

Whatever it is exactly, the media hasn't deemed him deserving of the kind of praise they love to heap on the likes of Zach Thomas, Wes Welker, or his former teammate Hines Ward. Rarely do we hear about Plax' toughness or heart, or how he's a "complete football player."

But Plax does deserves that kind of adulation. Not only did he ignore the pain and show up on game day as his stats testify, but he did so as the focus of the Giants offense. He was their number one option, not just statistically, but more importantly, psychologically. He's the one the defenses keyed on. He embraced that responsibility, and we never heard him complain.

The first time he said anything about his injuries was after the Super Bowl when he was asked about his game-winning touchdown. "I gave him a slant fake, he bit it, Eli put it up there and I came down with it. I just told myself, 'God, if you could just get me out here tonight, based on what I've been through all year with the knee and the ankle and the back and everything.' I'm just so grateful for the opportunity and I just told myself I can come out here tonight and compete I would give God all the glory."


  1. You're dead on about Plax--such heart. Good call on the tilted visor...

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