Tuesday, November 17

Hypothetical Questions about Greatness

There's not much to say about Bill Belichick's decision to not punt on fourth down against the Colts that hasn't already been stated, but let's take a look at a few hypothetical questions that may help provide clarity to the issue. First, by choosing not to punt Coach Belichick was illustrating his belief that Peyton Manning would be able to lead the team down the field in two minutes and score. His belief was not unfounded given that Manning had done so in two of the last three drives (one drive was two minutes and four seconds to be accurate) with both drives covering 79 yards. If we take the average punt of New England's Chris Hanson into account, the Colts would've been looking at approximately a 73 yard drive had the Patriots chosen to punt. I say that just to point that Belichick's belief was not unfounded. It's hard not to get fixated on where on the field the decision took place, but let's take a look at some other sports and other situations to compare and see if the coach would be greeted with as much criticism the following day.

Imagine you were a coach facing the Bulls during the 1997-1998 season and were trailing them by one with forty seconds remaining. You've called a timeout and you're getting ready to go into your huddle knowing that your team can't run the clock out, but also knowing that arguably the greatest clutch shooter in your league's history will have a chance to shoot before the game is over. You also know your defense is tired and hasn't been able to stop him all fourth quarter. Do you as a coach draw up a play for your deadeye shooter to take a three even though your team trails by only one? If you don't and you believe Jordan will hit a shot (if needed) haven't you accepted the one point loss? (The Bulls could certainly choose to go for the win with a three pointer, but Jordan was much less proficient from deep particularly at the end of his career meaning either a) he would play for OT b) he would not be taking the three or of course C) He takes it, makes it and you racked your brain for nothing.)

Another hypothetical from baseball:
You're managing a team playing against the Yankees and leading by a run in the bottom of the 8th inning. They have runners on first and third with no outs. They have put a pinch runner on 1st and the number eight hitter at the plate. Do you as a manager pull your infield in to attempt to stop the tying run, knowing that a ball through the infield could potentially allow the go ahead run to reach third? Before you answer keep in mind that your closer has blown two of his last three saves (why is he still your closer? You have no better options, smarty.) and they have Mariano Rivera warming up. If you believe that your team will lose if that runner on third scores, don't you have to do everything you can to keep him from scoring even if it means that the runner on first has a better chance to score if you bring the infield in?

If Belichick believed Manning would score this was essentially the same scenario he found himself in, but neither would be met with the same criticism because of where his team was on the football field. The bottom line is greatness changes everything. It changes how you have your team play if you've got it and it changes how you coach your team if you're going against it. Belichick believed in his quarterback to get it done and he believed in Manning to get it done. He may have made the wrong decision in the game, but it's hard to argue with Bill on that one.

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