Game Play Thursday : You Decide!

Just so we’re clear: I’m copping out of this week’s Game Play Thursday post because I didn’t make time to write it. That’s what’s happening here.

But in other news, the entire house is decked out for Christmas and I’m pulling ahead in this year’s race to watch as many cheesy Christmas movies as possible between now and December 25th.

SO, instead of actually writing a Game Play Thursday post, I’m letting you write it: What do you want to see explained on these days? What should we cover over the next few weeks of Game Play Thursday? Defensive schemes? Penalties? Passing routes? What would be most helpful for you?

Let your thoughts loose in the comments! I’d love to hear from you!

What To Know : After Week 13

Let me tell you about one of the crueler decisions ever made by television executives.

On Sunday, while most of the country was watching Adrian Peterson have one of the best game of his life and the Packers, my Packers!, shut the Vikes out in the second half to get the win, Eastern New York was subjected to the Jets/Cardinals game, easily the most mind-boggling display of offensive football I’ve ever witnessed. And it wasn’t just me. Both announcers did all they could to keep from laughing out loud. And then…Thom Brennaman couldn’t hold it in any longer. And he quotes: “I got to tell you, this has been as ugly and inept an offensive football game as I’ve ever seen.”

Amen, Thom. Amen.

I mean…it took SIX DRIVES for either team to complete a pass in the second half. It really should have been called a mutual loss at half time and switched to the Packers game. And honestly, I take no pleasure in saying all of this; I know that these are hard working men who don’t deserve to be collectively flogged by fans and general spectators worldwide for a bad game. I know I wouldn’t want my faults aired on live television for all the world to see. But this was a really, really bad game. A really bad game. Arizona finished 0-15 on third downs. I’m not even sure how that’s possible.

So let’s just move on. In other news:

  • Sanchez did get benched in the third quarter for 3rd stringer Greg McElroy (Tim Tebow was deactivated with fractured ribs), who aided in scoring the only points of the game for the Jets.
  • Greg’s mom was headed upstairs to take a nap right before he was put in for Sanchez. That’s how bad this game was. 
  • And now we’re officially done talking about it.
  • The Seahawks giveth, and the Seahawks taketh away. They beat the Bears in OT to give the Packers the lead in the NFC North playoff race, which was really the least they could do after the replacement ref debacle loss back in September that skewed the Packers divisional standing.
  • Andrew Luck. Oh my land, Andrew Luck. He drove the Colts down the field, behind a terrible offensive line, in the final minute to score against the Lions and win the game on 4th and 10 in the final seconds. He was incredible, the definition of “clutch.”
  • So much for the sure bet of Ravens over a Roethlisberger-less Steelers. Charlie Batch led the Steelers to a well-earned 23-20 win.
  • As we talked about yesterday, the Niners and Rams almost tied in OT AGAIN! But luckily Greg the Leg hit a game winning FG with 30 second left on the overtime clock.
  • Giants at Redskins was a Monday night thriller, with RG3 leading the Skins to a 17-16 victory. The Giants had a hand in beating themselves, however, with a copious number of penalties and bad decisions.

And there she is: Week 13. Any other thoughts to add? Please do!

Important Words Well Said

You’ve likely heard about the tragedy in Kansas City over the weekend, but you might have missed these important words well said afterward.

Linebacker Jovan Belcher took the life of his girlfriend and then his own life in a horrific murder-suicide. I think it’s usually best in unthinkable situations such as these to stay away from generic responses, especially as an outsider looking in. All I can say is that I feel sincerely sorry for everyone involved and I’ll be praying for them in the days and months that follow.

But yesterday an insider shared more than just a pat answer in response to what happened. Brady Quinn, oft-chastised backup-turned-starting quarterback for the Chiefs, shared this in his post-game press conference:

“When you ask someone how they are doing, do you really mean it? When you answer someone back how you are doing, are you really telling the truth? We live in a society of social networks, with Twitter pages and Facebook, and that’s fine, but we have contact with our work associates, our family, our friends, and it seems like half the time we are more preoccupied with our phone and other things going on instead of the actual relationships that we have right in front of us. Hopefully, people can learn from this and try to actually help if someone is battling something deeper on the inside than what they are revealing on a day-to-day basis.”

I’m grateful for Quinn’s maturity and perspective, and for his strength to speak up, and speak up so eloquently, when it would have been easier to stay silent. Let’s take his advice and try to connect with each other today in meaningful, tangible ways, looking for opportunities to build each other up. It’s far more important than anything else we have to do.

Wait…What Just Happened : Intentional Grounding

That the first Niners-Rams meeting ended in a tie was a surprise – the first tie in the NFL since 2008. But that the second meeting almost ended in a tie too…well, that’s just nearly unbelievable.

But that’s what happened!

And that’s why we love the NFL. Best reality TV on TV.

Thankfully, Greg the Leg won the game for the Rams with thirty seconds left in overtime and prevented general mayhem from erupting in the NFC West.

The Niners helped the Rams score two points on their way to the eventual overtime victory. Let’s define a few things and then get into what happened.

The Rams earned their first two points of the game off of a safety scored due to a penalty for intentional grounding in the end zone. That’s a lot of verbiage. So one step at a time:

A safety is when an offensive player who has possession of the football is tackled in his own end zone. When this happens, the defense is awarded two points.

Intentional grounding happens when the quarterback is being pressured and chooses to get rid of the football (“throw it away”) rather than hold the football while being sacked. He would choose to do that because if he holds onto the football when he is sacked the ball will be spotted wherever the sack occurred, which is usually well behind the line of scrimmage and results in a lot of lost yardage for the offense. (For example, if the offense was originally lined up on the 30 yard line on 1st and 10 and the QB was sacked with the ball at the 20 yard line, the next down and distance would be 2nd and 20. It’s second down and the offense lost 10 yards on the previous play, so they now have 20 total yards to go to get a first down.) But if he throws it away in the vicinity of a receiver and it’s a catchable ball, it’s an incomplete pass and the ball goes back to the original line of scrimmage. (For example, if the offense was originally at the 30 yard line and the QB throws it away while under pressure, the next down and distance would be 2nd and 10 because it’s second down and the ball will be spotted at the original line of scrimmage, so the offense still has 10 yards to go to get a first down.)

However, if the quarterback throws the ball away “without a realistic chance of completion (a judgement call by the refs), he gets called for intentional grounding, which is a loss of down plus a ten yard penalty. (So, using our 1st and 10, 30 yard line example from above, the next play would be 2nd and 20: loss of down (from first down to second down) and a ten yard penalty (from 1st and 10 to 2nd and 20). If intentional grounding occurs in the end zone, it’s an automatic safety for the defense, a 2 point score. 

That’s what happened to San Francisco yesterday.

Niners QB Colin Kaepernick was pressured in the end zone. He was being chased by multiple Rams defensive players and decided to throw the ball away instead of getting sacked in the end zone for a safety. However, in throwing it away to no one, he was called for intentional grounding, which also results in a safety.

And thus the Rams were awarded their first two points in the 13-13 tie that led to an overtime win. Tough break for a rookie QB.

Make sense?

What To Know : Week 13

This just kills me. Week 13?! Already?! It can’t be!

But it’s here all the same. And it’s fixing to be a great one:

GAME OF THE WEEK: I mean, really, take your pick. What game isn’t great this week (blacked out Buffalo/Jacksonville game notwithstanding)? Clearly, I have a vested interest in the Packers vs. Vikings game and will be watching with baited breath to see if the Pack can bounce back after Sunday’s night’s burn-the-tape exhibition against the Giants. But other than that, I think the Giants at Washington Monday nighter is a sure bet. Anytime NFC East rivals get together it’s always a great show, and judging from the first time the two met earlier this season, it’s bound to be another thriller.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Big Ben. Whether he plays or not in Sunday’s game against the Ravens will probably be the determining factor of whether the Steelers win or not. Although a team that turned the ball over eight times in a single game will probably be able to summon the motivation to play for redemption with or without their starting quarterback.

STORYLINE TO KNOW: There are three notable matchups between, shall we say, disappointing opponents. They break down into the following:

Which Team Will Be Less Bad, AFC Edition:

Jacksonville at Buffalo. There’s a reason why this game is not going to be seen on local television due to attendance deficit.

Which Team Will Be Less Bad, NFC Edition:

Philly at Dallas. Now, NFL, you put in the flex scheduling option for a reason. And that reason is Sunday night games like this. Why isn’t this game being flexed out for pretty much any other game with actual playoff implications in Week 13? Riddle me that.

Which Team Will Be Less Bad, Mixed Bag Edition:

Arizona at New York Jets. At the beginning of the season, Arizona had a quarterback controversy but are currently experiencing quarterback scarcity. At the beginning of the season, New York had a brewing quarterback controversy but are currently experiencing Armageddon. I’m actually looking forward to seeing which way this one goes.


bite sized cannoli cups

chewy pumpkin ginger cookies

cookies n’ cream peanut butter bark

crockpot brunch casserole

pecan pie bars

Game Play Thursday : The Wildcat

Chances are, most of you live in the northeast. Mostly because chances are, most of you are my direct friends and family. (Hi, guys!) So there’s a high probability that you’ve heard reference of the wildcat formation, which seems to have received a lot of attention from the AFC East in recent years.

The Miami Dolphins liberally employed it in the 2008 season and the Jets had the highly-debated option to use it this season with Tim Tebow, an option they probably would have benefited from. (As for the other AFC East teams, the Pats have Brady and the Bills are the Bills…so that’s the end of that.)

So what is the wildcat?

I could give you the easy way out and tell you that the wildcat formation is when someone other than the quarterback takes the snap. But there are two flaws in that explanation. 1. It’s not true (but widely accepted anyway because it’s the easiest way to think of the wildcat). And 2. You are smart enough to learn the real formation. I’m not going to underestimate your intelligence in learning or mine in explaining. So here we go!

Let’s start with the shotgun. The shotgun formation is a typical offensive formation in college and NFL football in which the quarterback takes the snap from 5-7 yards behind the center. It’s one that you’re likely to see on any given weekend. I made this illustration to break the formation down into units so that you can clearly see who/where everyone is: the circles are offensive linemen, the squares are skill position players, and the hexagon is the quarterback.

football, advanced, wildcat, shotgun

It’s not perfect…and it’s why I’m learning how to use Photoshop! Better illustrations coming soon.

So the shotgun formation employs all the usual suspects where they are typically located: the offensive line is where they always are, the tight end is lined up on the offensive line to help block, the wide receiver on the tight end’s side (aka: the flanker) is about a yard off the line, the wide receiver on the other side (aka: the split end) is on the line, and two running backs are lined up just in front of the QB.

In the Wildcat Formation, three things generally happen:

1. A skill position players takes the snap. Usually, a running back.

2. The motion is a jet sweep. I can sense your question marks from across cyber space. Stay with me, here! We haven’t talked about motion/formations a whole lot yet, but fear not! We’re not going to break it all down right now, but basically, “motion” means that one player (and only one player – any more than that is an illegal motion) is moving at the time of the snap. A “sweep” is when a player (usually a running back) is running parallel to the line of scrimmage so that the offensive line can block for him. In the jet sweep, the motion called in the wildcat formation, a player (usually a running back) takes off in a dead sprint to receive the handoff and either keeps going in a run play or takes off in a fake.

How are we doing?

Not too bad, right?

Ok, part three:


3. The offensive line is unbalanced. Remember the formation of the offensive line above? The typical center in the middle, the guards on either side of him, and the tackles outside of the guards? That’s a balanced line. In the wildcat formation, the line is unbalanced. Everyone is still on the line, but in different places.

Let’s see how this works. Here’s a basic wildcat formation:

football, advanced, wildcat

Let’s take a look at what’s different from the shotgun formation.

1. Where’s the QB? You’ll notice that there is no hexagon in this diagram, because the quarterback is usually not on the field in the wildcat formation. He is replaced by a skill position player, usually a tight end, who often gets added to the offensive line to be an extra blocker.

2. A running back is taking the snap. See the running back farthest back? Lined up directly behind center? He’ll be getting the ball snapped to him.

3. The line is unbalanced. The center is not in the middle, the guards are not outside of him, and the tackles are not outside of the guards.

Now, using what we learned about the definitions of a wildcat play above, let’s see what this would look like when the ball is snapped:

football, advanced, wildcat

Let’s line it up against our three keys for a wildcat play:

1. A skill position players takes the snap. Done. The running back lined up behind the center is taking the snap.

2. The motion is a jet sweep. Check. The other running back on the left is running a jet sweep. In this play, he’ll be running a fake and the other running back will be running the ball upfield through the gap provided for him between the guards.

3. The offensive line is unbalanced. Yep! We’re so over this; we know where they usually line up and know that they’re jumbled in this play. Done.

So now you’ve got it. I know you’ve got it! And you’ll be able to explain the wildcat in fine form to anyone who asks…probably more efficiently than anyone else in the room. Have fun!

Questions/comments/concerns? Leave ’em in the comments and let’s chat!

(A special thanks to this source and this source and this source for helping make this tutorial much less harrowing.)