Strategic flaws

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Steve of Boston asks: "Is Tony Dungy completely immune from criticism?"

As a human being, yes. He's one of the nicest guys I know. As a strategist, no. He made what I think was the wrong call against the Chargers. Down by four, fourth and goal on the seven, going for the TD was, I believe, the wrong move. He had all his timeouts left and a chance to get the ball back (which they did) and win the game on a kick.

The odds on a TD are too great, especially the way the flow was going. Peyton had missed on his last four passes. A Chargers defensive uprising was taking place. The kick would have given the Indy offense time to settle down and watch the Dee force a San Diego punt, and then it could have gone back out, needing only three with a minute and a half left. A better percentage play all around.

So why, Steve asks, didn't I devote some ink to the matter? Sometimes, when you write a day later, these things get overwhelmed by other angles, such as Billy Volek and, more important, the look ahead to next weekend. I'm not excusing it, I'm just telling you the way it is. I should have mentioned it, granted.

But if you want to complain about strategy, here's one that no one at all touched on, mainly because success blunted a foulup. Giants-Cowboys, end of the first half. The Cowboys' 20-play drive is winding down, and they're on the New York two, second down, goal to go with 1:53 left. The Giants had two timeouts remaining and they should have used them. You know Dallas is going to score, either seven or three, and they're content to let the clock run. The Giants could have gotten the ball back with a lot more than the 47 seconds they had left.

It's the most common clock butchery in football, but since the Giants scored anyway, all that was forgotten. But not by me.

More Dungy. Per of Lebanon is caught up in a Dungy quote he says he once read, about how he coaches all games the same. He wants to know how this could be? Did the famous generals fight all battles the same way?

I think I know what Tony meant. Strategy changes, game to game, but any attempt to try to coach emotion into the players is bound for failure. So on an emotional level, he coaches all of them the same way. I like that. The fiery speeches and inspirational stuff don't work much after high school. I think the best motivation the players can have is to see their coach calm and in control, and most important, appearing to know what he is doing.

Still on that subject, well, sort of, Greg of Red Bank, N.J., told me that in the last two minutes of Giants-Dallas he was down on the floor with his infant son, praying. He wants to know how I like THAT strategy.

I don't like it in Dallas. The line's too long, since that's the prayer capital of the NFL. You'd have to wait all day behind the Dallas fans. Giants in Green Bay might offer you a shorter line, since the Wisconsin folks are an earthier group. But the place to pray, when the Giants were on the road was, in the old days, L.A., home of the Rams. No line at all. You'd step right to the front. Prayer ain't very big in Los Angeles.

How do you defend against Tom Brady? This question appears in many aspects. "Drop extra men into coverage and hit the receivers as much as you can," says Scott of Centerport. Nah, I don't like that. Extra men in coverage means fewer on the rush, and any defense against Brady and the boys will have to come up with the most imaginative rush ever seen. Hitting the receivers is OK if you have an officiating crew that doesn't hoist its skirts and holler eeek at the sight of some contact.

Is it possible to maintain an effective rush for 60 minutes, asks Derek of Brussels? No, half the time you're on offense. Just being a wise ass. It's possible to keep it going for a while if you keep rotating rushers. Which means you have to be deep, Some teams aren't.

Use the kind of defense, says Victor of Boston, that the Giants used, with Belichick as their coordinator, against the Bills in the Super Bowl. To refresh -- they left their base LBs on the field and had them beating up the four wides in Buffalo's K-Gun. Officiating was different then. They didn't call things as tight. But I like the theory. Except where it concerns Wes Welker. Linebackers going against that guy would be swinging and missing, kind of like Primo Carnera vs. Joe Louis.

From Dave of St. Louis --"Whose legacy will be more positively enhanced by winning this Super Bowl, Favre or Brady?" Kindly ask the gentlemen and women who deal in legends. They can be found during Super Bowl week behind microphones that say ESPN or FOX or CBS or NFL NETWORK or WFAN or NBC. You will automatically reach for the volume control as you pass by.

Oh, here's a good one from back-to-back e-mailers, each with the same angle. Tight end Jeremy Shockey seems to be the intended receiver on five of the six picks Eli Manning threw in the Minnesota and Chicago games, both losses. This is pointed out by both Allen of Beckett, Mass., and Will of Olympia, Wash. Is this a coincidence? How much of it is Shockey's fault, and if the answer is "a lot," should they now seek to trade him?

I just looked at my chart. I've got one pick in the Chicago game on a pass intended for the tight end, Shockey, and three against the Vikings, and all went for TDs. I didn't chart the fourth one in that game because when a contest becomes a blowout, my charts become meaningless and I back off. But I'll take your word for it. Sure, part of it is Shockey's fault, and when three go for TDs in the same game, I'd have to ask for more of a show of life from him.

Should they trade or can him? Nope, too much $$$ invested. There must be a job available. Stables could use a new groom. Butler's getting kind of old and he could use a little help in the pantry. Gentleman who trains the pack of foxhounds is having trouble with his vision, and a new pair of sharp eyes might be just the ticket.

Toot-toot, here comes the Hall of Fame Express, and with it, the usual round of preguntas as the enshrinement meeting draws near. Craig of Pittsburgh -- "Can you please give me some sort of an explanation as to why Dermontti Dawson is not even on the final HoF list this year?" Sure, the explanation is that most selectors don't have a clue as to what a center does out there.

From Mike of Montclair, N.J. -- "Do you think Ray Guy gets shut out of the HoF this year?" Yeah. Tommy Davis was far better and no one ever heard of him. Ray was a middle of the end zone punter. His net yardage was abysmal.

From Matt of Cincinnati, and thank you -- A very long description of criteria used for determining excellence? Best at his position for a number of years is definitely one. Impact on the game is another. Willingness to talk to Dr .Z during locker room interviews is still another ... no, just kidding. Different selectors have their own standards, and I'll be honest, some puzzle me greatly. Will we ever see another fullback enshrined? Probably not, the way the position is handled nowadays.

Could this be a big Hall of Fame year for offensive linemen, asks Jim of Williston, Vt.? I don't care about any of them except Bob Kuechenberg. If I can ever manage to swing the election for Kooch, then I'll worry about some others. The wine for your wife' exceptional charcroute garni? It's got to be an Alsatian gewürztraminer, and I would strongly recommend anything from Albert Mann.

From John of Boston -- "You and the HoF Committee have some serious explaining to do after once again failing to send Steve Tasker into Canton where he rightfully belongs." Not me, pal. I've voted for little Steve every chance I had.

Grayson of Longmont, Colo., wants my take on Jerry Jones descending to the sidelines during Dallas games. Well, I can tell you don't like it, Gray, mainly because you said so, but I kind of get a kick out of it. No. 1, I like to watch his expressions as a mirror of the action, and No. 2, and this will surprise you, but if I were a player, I'd like to feel that the big boss was so into it that he was right down there next to us, rather than sipping margaritas in his box ... his margarita box ... his mar garitabox ... his margar eat-a-box.

Eric of Bloomsburg, Pa., is looking for stats on the correlation between coaches' won-lost and the positions they played at one time. I hereby commission you to undertake that research project, Eric, and I will always be around to offer encouragement. I can tell you that more ex-linemen were successful than ex-backs. Why? Because there are more linemen than backs on a team.

E-mailer of the Week award goes to Robbie Evans of Stanford, Calif., but don't start celebrating yet, ace, because it was a fairly week weak ... I mean weak week ... really testing the copyreaders on that one. He focuses on a very serious issue, assistant coaches interviewing for head jobs while their teams are still in the playoffs. Very few head coaches like it. Most don't care for it but are too gentlemanly to admit it, and thus deny their assistants a chance to better themselves. When you say that it's not fair that this is a problem that affects only the successful teams that are in the playoffs, I agree, but those are the penalties of success, as we both know.

Merci, mon ami Meo de Quebec City. Nothing but praise from this Canadien francais. He ends it with, "Long life to you and the 'flaming redhead.'" It's past tense for me in that department. For la flamboyante rousse, it's full speed ahead. See that's what happens when you marry 'em when they're 14.