The Notebook: Questioning the refs, Jim Schwartz, Matt Schaub, and Trent Richardson

Mike Ehrmann

Retired NFL defensive end Stephen White is back to open up his Notebook from Week 11, when the refs and couple coaches made some questionable calls, Gerald McCoy continued to dominate, and Trent Richardson continued to hesitate.

When I'm working on this Notebook at the beginning of each week I get immersed in film and miss a few things that happen off the field. After checking my twitter account Wednesday morning it was obvious I had missed something big that RGIII either did or didn't say after the Eagles beat Washington. I knew he had thrown a late interception to seal the loss and that the offense didn't do much until the second half. But here I was on a Wednesday seeing posts about him not taking responsibility after the loss. There were more posts about his teammate, Santana Moss, agreeing that Griffin should have taken responsibility and implying that he hadn't. Head coach Mike Shanahan "responding" to him by saying that the Washington offense had not become predictable.

I thought RGIII must have really stepped in it this time! Then I Googled a copy of the transcript from his postgame presser.

This is my confused face.

First off here is a link to that transcript so you can read it ALL for yourself and make your own decisions about what he did or did not say. Here are the quotes from RGIII that don't fit the narrative described above however.

About that last interception:

"Obviously I was on my heels and it’s something I can definitely learn from,..."

"...it was something I shouldn’t do. It’s something I’ll learn from."

About the offense:

"...no matter what’s going on out there, we’re the players, we have to make the plays work."

"I don’t think it has become predictable."

"I just think they had the right call in the right situation and they lucked into some pretty good recoveries."

My emphasis added.

Maybe RGIII hasn't taken enough responsibility this year for his team's loses. Maybe he does think the Eagles beat them because the offense has become too predictable. Hell, maybe he is an egomaniac of the first order. All I'm saying is the transcript certainly did not justify some of the posts that I have seen or the responses from at least one of his teammates and his head coaches.

Amazing how this kind of thing happens regularly these days. This is why I always recommend clicking on source links when available.

Official interference

Sometimes referees need to know when to keep their flags in their pocket. We don't tune in to see them, after all. Prime example? Bengals linebacker James Harrison intercepted Browns quarterback Jason Campbell on Sunday and went HAAAAMMMM. He ran over not one, but two Browns offensive linemen on his way to the end zone. The man didn't even get to celebrate, however, because some no-name referee threw a flag for a block in the back.

Seriously?!

There is no way that block, no matter how egregious, contributed to that touchdown in any meaningful way. When an OG like Harrison shows that kind of determination to make it all the way to paydirt, please show some better damned discretion for all of our sakes!

Schwartz's blunder

Usually I try to talk about things in this Notebook that aren't necessarily obvious. Stuff that a bunch of other people aren't already covering. This time, I have to ask: what in the hell was Jim Schwartz thinking with that fake field goal?!

The Lions were already up four early in the fourth quarter after a slow start. A field goal puts them up a full touchdown and extra point. They were at the Pittsburgh 10-yard line so it is essentially a chip shot. And he went ... fake field goal? What the hell, man?!

Punterfumble_medium

I know some folks will say I'm only criticizing because it didn't work, but if you read this column every week you know dumb coaching moves are one of my pet peeves. I have yet to see or hear a good rationale for pulling a gimmick like that in that situation, probably because none exists. It was early in the fourth quarter so who knows, maybe the Steelers would have come back and won regardless. Still, this was one the Lions gave away.

If they end up on the outside looking in as the playoffs roll around, this is one of the losses that Schwartz will need to answer for.

Can Glennon make gains from here?

Rookie third round pick Mike Glennon is off to a decent start as the Buccaneers' starting quarterback. One of a few problems he has had as the starter is finding rapport with Bucs big play wide receiver Vincent Jackson. Jackson has never been the best route runner and he isn't exactly a burner. On the other hand, at 6'5 and 230 pounds, he is and always has been a force to be reckoned with on deep balls.

Glennon hasn't looked comfortable making those throws, so the two hadn't been able to take the top off the defense much in their time together. Until Sunday when the Bucs lambasted the Falcons.

Glennon and Jackson connected on 10 passes for 165 yards, including a 47-yard strike early in the game that Jackson snagged with one hand and a beautiful 53-yard bomb in the third quarter. It wasn't beautiful because Glennon hit Jackson in stride after he had outrun the defender. It was beautiful because Glennon threw it up to Jackson even though he was still covered pretty decently by Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud, allowing Jackson to make a play for the ball.

In past weeks, Glennon would have more than likely either thrown the ball five yards out of bounds or five yards inside Jackson, wary of being picked off. Those were missed opportunities for big gains and possibly touchdowns that had no chance of success.

If Glennon can consistently show confidence in Jackson by giving him a chance to make a play on the deep ball when he is covered one-on-one, the rest of the Bucs' offense should benefit the rest of the way. Just the threat of having the top of the defense taken off by the deep ball makes running the ball and completing the shorter passes so much easier. It's kind of a big deal.

The best DT in the game

This may be controversial, but I'm going to say it anyway: with the Bengals' Geno Atkins out, Bucs three technique Gerald McCoy is the best defensive tackle in football. You might think I'm saying that because he had three sacks in the Bucs' win over the Falcons. I mean, it didn't hurt.

That's not really it though. I still believe that the game McCoy had against the Seahawks a couple of weeks ago was his best of the year and he didn't record a sack in that game. You can go back and watch every single game of the season and you won't find one where he wasn't dominant.

Usually a defensive tackle is a run stopper or a pass rusher -- it's rare that one is excellent at both. That's exactly what you see from McCoy every single week though. Had his defensive coaches pulled their collective heads out of their collective asses earlier in the season and stopped with all the blitzing and stunting, there is no telling what kind of sack numbers he would have right now. As it stands he already has six on the season, which is a career high for him and that number will likely shoot up if his coaches continue with the game plan from the last two weeks.

That is a big IF and I don't have a lot of confidence that they will, but if they do, people will see just how much they held him back the first seven or so games of the season. Even saying all that, he was still kicking ass in the running game and wreaking havoc on opposing offenses. After he finished his first two seasons on injured reserve and some folks had taken to labeling him a bust, McCoy might just be coming for the crown as best defensive tackle, hands down, next year -- no matter if Atkins is healthy or not.

Houston headache

I saw where Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson and his (sort of?) quarterback Matt Schaub got into it at the end of their loss to the Raiders on Sunday. To that I say, GOOD!

Before I get started, do not misconstrue what I'm about to say to link it to the recent bullying conversation. I certainly am not. Thing is, I don't understand good teams having bad seasons without somebody getting in one of his teammates' faces.

You can spout off about sticking together and all that but at some point when the same guy or guys keep screwing up over and over and it is costing you games, somebody has to stand up and say so. And when they say so it might not be the nicest conversation. From all that I have seen Johnson works his butt off, plays extremely hard, produces and holds himself to a high standard, so I don't have a problem at all with him holding someone else to a high standard as well.

For some of these teams that are a lot more talented than their record would suggest, I would almost recommend some arguments on the sideline because iron sharpens iron. Guys need to know that playing like crap isn't going to cut it and many times that message is hammered home more clearly by a teammate than by a coach. If a guy isn't doing his job it might be time to, metaphorically of course, put boots to asses, as The Rock would say, and challenge them to get their stuff together.

Kubiak's quick hook

At the same time, Texans head coach Gary Kubiak pushed the panic button by pulling starter Case Keenum in the third quarter for Matt Schaub, the guy who he benched earlier this year. The Texans were only down 11 and Keenum hadn't played so bad that any kind of change was needed at the time. Especially when you factor in how long Kubiak stayed with Schaub after he threw pick six after pick six to start the season.

The excuse that he had to change the offense was horse crap and everybody knows it. There wasn't anything ground breaking that the Texans did after Schaub came into the game -- as a matter of fact, it looked just as predictable as it has all season.

What did he have to show for this "bold move"? Two field goals and his star wide receiver walking into the locker room before the final minutes went off the clock because of a verbal altercation with Schaub.

Awesome!

There might be quicker ways to lose a locker room full of good players than by backing the wrong quarterback, but I can't think of any. It will be interesting to see how the Texans respond to Kubiak the rest of the season.

How the Bucs got better

You might be one of those people who are wondering why the Bucs suddenly look so much better than they did during most of their eight-game losing streak to start the season. Don't fall for the easy narratives people will throw out there like all of a sudden Bucs head coach Greg Schiano's "plan" is working, or that a new guy here and a new guy there has turned everything around. Here are the top five reasons the Bucs have looked better.

1. Two out of the last three weeks they have played average to below average teams. That isn't an opinion; the Dolphins' and Falcons' records also back that up.

2. The Bucs' ever-evolving offense is finally taking advantage of their players' strengths that were always there. Exhibit A is the running game. Yes, left tackle Jamon Meredith is a marginal upgrade over, say Gabe Carimi, who started there in the first game of the year. However, the fact that the Bucs are choosing to run more with a fullback leading the way and/or using more kickout blocks by the guards is the overriding reason why the running game has been more productive of late. Especially now that for the most part, the kickout blocks are being handled by Meredith rather than right guard Davin Joseph, who hasn't played well at all this year.

3. Somebody finally took defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan's joystick away from him and the Bucs have gone more with straight rushes instead of blitzes and stunts. This has unleashed the beast that is Gerald McCoy and everyone on defense has benefited from that.

The fact that McCoy had to go to the coaches and ask them to change the game plan again after he had to do it last year doesn't inspire much confidence in their coaching abilities, however.

4. The emergence of rookie tight end Tim Wright. The first game of the season Tom Crabtree was out hurt and Wright still didn't play a snap, I don't believe. This was after all offseason the Bucs' coaches and front office told fans over and over that they didn't need a pass catching tight end in offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan's offense. Now not only is Wright a big part of the Bucs' passing game, he is also a weapon that can beat just about any linebacker one-on-one. Most safeties don't fare much better either. His numbers might not look all that impressive right now, but just the threat he poses with his speed up the seam forces opposing defenses to scheme for him, which helps to open up other parts of the passing game as well as the running game.

5. Sheridan finally decided it was time to match up Darrelle Revis on the opposing team's best wide receiver no matter where he lines up on the field. I could say much more about how stupid somebody has to be to wait until you have lost six or seven games to come up with this bright idea, but I would probably just be repeating myself from an earlier column. Needless to say, I am not a fan but I am happy to see Sheridan finally come around.

Are there other factors as well? I'm sure there are but for me these are the top five. Bucs fans would be wise to pay particular attention to No. 1 because I do believe some of this is fool's gold. Not to worry, four out of their last six games will be against legitimate playoff contenders. If this turnaround is real, everyone will see it, if not ... well, we will definitely see that too.

The question Bucs fans, and for that matter the owners, will have to ask is why in the hell did it take so long to make some of these changes?

Salvaging Trent Richardson

When I think of a good running back I usually envision a guy who has good speed, good vision, is strong enough to get the tough yards inside and can make somebody miss in space. I believe that Trent Richardson is a good running back. I also think that might be what is hurting him in Indy.

You have to understand something about teams that run power football schemes -- generally they set up the blocking to give the running back a crease that opens and shuts in an instant. The thought process is something like they get you through the hole and then its your job to get anything extra. If you never make it through that crease, however, you are shit out of luck.

In practice that means the normal patience a running back would have when he runs in, say, a zone scheme where he waits for a hole to open then puts his foot in the ground and hits it is a detriment in a power scheme. You need to instead have a good aiming point for where the crease is supposed to be and try to get there and through in a hurry. You would almost rather the stiff straight-ahead "three yards and a cloud of dust" running back in a power scheme because you know the blocking on most plays will get him past the line of scrimmage and his momentum and power will get him, yes, those three yards at least. Three yards is nothing to brag about but you expect that eventually the three yards will become 13 or 30 at some point after the defense wears down.

As it pertains to Richardson, right now he is still feeling his way through the crease and even making moves in the backfield rather than using his speed and power to get him through that hole. In many ways, it's his "running back ability" that is hurting him, so to speak. Because he spends so much time trying to pick the right hole and juke defenders in the backfield, he wastes too much time and by the time he gets to the crease, it's either closed or closing rapidly.

His backup (who probably should be starting at the moment) Donald Brown is in his fifth season in the league and has finally seen the light and is running these plays as if he is some 250-pound slug. That is, he is running that way until he gets through the hole. He doesn't show off those jitterbug moves of his until after he has made it through the crease which, again, ensures that on most plays he is going to get positive yardage.

Here are a few pics of plays from the Colts' win over the Titans from both backs that illustrate my point perfectly.

Trich_bad1_medium

These different color lines illustrate the different paths Richardson could take on this run. Red is where he should be going full speed right behind his fullback. Blue would be OK too but not preferred. Yellow is the path he actually took and instead of making good yardage, by trying to cut back, he runs with less power right into a defender.

Trich_bad_2_medium

On this carry, Richardson should have his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage coming down hill at this point (red). Instead, his shoulders are still turned and he is looking too make a move on the unblocked defender while still in the backfield (yellow).

Trich_real_bad_1_medium

This play was my "aha" moment when it came to trying to put my finger on why Richardson wasn't having nearly the success Donald Brown was running the ball. On this play a defensive lineman will eventually show up in Richardson's path. The defensive lineman is on the ground, however, and not really in a position to make a play on him. The truth is Richardson should have been running so hard through the hole that he might not even have noticed that defensive lineman in his way. If he did, all he would have had to do is widen his track just a bit but keep going straight downhill.

That's ... not what happened.

Trich_real_bad1a_medium

Instead of Richardson staying tight to his fullback and exploding off the edge of his block outside, he hesitates at the sight of the defensive lineman in his path. Once again, he is trying to be too patient and make the perfect cut when the perfect cut in this case is to blow right through the hole like the tank that he is and dare someone to try to tackle him.

As a contrast, here are the kind of paths that Donald Brown took in the same game.

Brown_good1_medium

No need to draw any color lines other than red for Brown because he consistently hits the hole going 100 miles per hour and doesn't deviate unless and until he gets through that crease. That is why he has become so much better at running the ball this year. (That and he finally got over his butter fingers phase.)

Brown_good1a_medium

When he does make it through that crease, then he turns back into a jitterbug and starts making people miss as he did right here.

Brown_good2_medium

In general, Brown seems to know where the double team will be on these power plays and, smartly, aims for a spot just outside of it. That gets him to and through the hole as soon as possible, which is what these blocking schemes were created for in the first place!

It's worth pondering whether Richardson has that level of comfort yet with the way these plays are being blocked since he did get traded in the early part of the season, but at some point he just has to put his head down and run as if he is trying to make it through a brick wall. Hell, he is only averaging three yards per carry as it is; I doubt that approach could possibly turn out any worse.

Of course, sometimes it's not on Richardson, it's on his blockers instead. These next two plays show two different counters where two different guards totally whiff on their kickout blocks and get him blown up. Not a hell of a lot he could do on either of those plays except make sure he held on to the ball.

Guard_whiff1_medium

Here we have Richardson (yellow) trying to run down hill right behind the guard's (red) pulling block. If the guard does his job there should be a crease right inside of him and with Richardson running downhill for once, the result should be a nice gain.

Not so fast.

Guard_whiff1a_medium

The guard totally whiffs on his block and as Emmitt Smith would say, Richardson got "blowded" up because of it.

It happened again later on in the game.

Guard_whiff2_medium

Same color scheme to stay consistent. You can see very well that if the guard (red) makes his block, Richardson will have a decent shot at a good gain here by cutting right inside of him. If ifs were fifths...

Guard_whiff2a_medium

It might be time for Richardson to take his offensive linemen out for a nice steak dinner, for his own health. Nobody can take too many of these kinds of hits, especially a guy under the microscope is to produce right now.

The good news for Richardson, Colts coaches and Colts fans alike is that obviously Richardson has the ability to run the ball the same way that Brown or any other good power scheme running back does. He is just going to have to condition himself to be a bruiser in the backfield and wait to show his juke moves once he gets through the hole and into the secondary. Once that happens, once he eliminates his hesitation before getting to the crease, he and everyone else aside from opposing defenses should be happy with the results.

If he is going to continue to be the starter, that change has to happen soon though because the Colts need it to, and so does Trent Richardson.

Haden, Harvin and other quick notes

  • I bet Joe Haden wishes he could play Andy Dalton every week, sheesh.
  • Welcome back, Percy. Mr. Harvin had a pretty impressive return to action in the Seahawks' win over the hapless Vikings. He forced a pass interference call on a deep ball, made a slick one-handed catch for a first down and showed the same explosiveness he has always had on a 58-yard kickoff return.
  • Harvin's return along with left tackle Russell Okung has made the rich Seahawks even richer. Sitting atop the NFL with only one loss, they are actually getting stronger in the second half of the season. That's bad news for all the other would-be NFC playoff contenders considering the road to the Super Bowl likely runs through CenturyLink Field.
  • The Browns tried to have Armanti Edwards run a read option play on Sunday and it did not go so well. With a little less than seven minutes left in the first quarter, Armanti faked the handoff to one running back, pulled it and ran wide to his left. But when confronted with a host of Bengals defenders, he appeared to lose his nerve. Rather than pitch it to the other running back along side him or lower his head and take what he could get, Edwards decided a quick back peddle was in order to try to lessen the force of the hit he was about to take. It was frigging hilarious! I kinda wonder if Edwards had to change his game pants at halftime. After a gain of zero on second-and-5, I doubt we will see that play again from the Browns, at least not with Edwards running.
  • Who was it a few weeks back that said the Steelers' offense would benefit by going to more of a shotgun no-huddle offense similar to what Peyton Manning and the Broncos are doing? Oh yeah, this guy. If the Steelers keep this up the rest of the way, they may well climb back into the playoff race.

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