Playoff overtime rules likely to change plan of attack for some
Over the last couple of days, I've communicated (spoken word, text, e-mail -- What a country!) with coaches or officials from six of the eight teams playing this weekend about the impact of the new playoffs-only overtime rule (in which the game will end if the first team scores a TD but continues if the coin-toss winner only kicks a field goal). It's not like going from simple arithmetic to algebra, but it's a little harder than you think, particularly when factoring in how good your kicker is. Colts president Bill Polian was adamant about that.
The most interesting scenario was painted by Rex Ryan, whose Jets play a wild -card match at Indianapolis Saturday night. "The first thing is you're going to take the ball if you win the toss, not defer," Ryan said Thursday. "We deferred every time but once this year when we won the toss [under the old overtime rules]. We're playing the Colts, and we may go for it on fourth down [on the first possession of overtime], even if we're in field-goal range.''
This is where this new rule gets funky, and if some team loses on a funkified scenario, I could see a coach screaming bloody murder about why the rules weren't applicable during the regular season, so teams could have adjusted their thinking to it.
Ryan actually might consider going for it on fourth-and-short late in regulation to avoid overtime. And to avoid two of the greatest players ever at their position. He certainly would consider it on the first drive of overtime in Colts' territory. Two reasons.
"On the first possession of overtime, you think of going for it on fourth down in field-goal range,'' Ryan said, "because if you kick the field goal, Peyton Manning would have four downs to make a first down. This is the best quarterback of all time, and you're giving him four downs to make a first down? And then you have the best clutch kicker in NFL history, Vinatieri, ready to make anything once Peyton gets the ball in range. So absolutely, no question, we'll consider going for it on fourth down on that first drive of overtime.''
I asked him: "Fourth-and-two? Fourth-and-three? How short would it have to be for you to go for it?''
"I think it's probably right in that area,'' he said.
• The Colts have to be the toughest team to play in this new OT scenario, just because of what Ryan says. "They're made for this new overtime,'' he said. If you've got been-there-done-that guys at the two vital overtime positions -- quarterback, kicker -- you've got a huge leg up. Who's close? Tom Brady and Shayne Graham? Mike Vick and David Akers? Drew Brees and Garrett Hartley got it done last year, but Hartley was a mess for half this season. No one's really close [to the Colts] at the two positions combined."
• I've seen a few coaches and analysts say you'd now tend to defer more at the start of an overtime game, which makes sense, because the kicking team would have the benefit of knowing whether it had to go for a touchdown or a field goal to either win or extend the game, respectively. This makes sense if you're Baltimore, let's say, because you'd trust your defense against a Chiefs' offense inexperienced at a big moment like this one. But if you're Seattle, no way you'd hand the ball to Brees. If you're the Jets, no way you defer to Manning. In the Packer-Eagle game, I would not kick to either Aaron Rodgers or Vick. I'd kick to Seattle, probably. I might kick to the Jets; might. But in most cases, I think teams would chose to receive the opening kick of OT.
• No one will be gutty enough to do it, but if you're Seattle, and you're somehow tied in a very high-scoring game with the Saints after four quarters, and you're kicking off, and you haven't stopped Brees in a while, you absolutely, positively should try an onside kick to start overtime. Why? If you kick deep, you give Brees the ball, say, at the Saints' 30. If you onside-kick, you either get the ball at your own 47 or give it to the Saints there. You're giving Brees about 23 free yards. Big deal. He was fairly sure to get them anyway. Come on, Pete Carroll: There aren't many coaches who'd have the guts to do this. (One who would -- Sean Payton -- will be standing on the opposite sidelines.)
Remember one thing about the new OT. The rules allow each team "the opportunity to possess" in overtime. They don't guarantee a possession. An onside kick missed by the receiving team is an opportunity to possess. A safety on the first possession ends the game, because the receiving team has possessed the ball and the kicking team has scored. A punt or field goal attempt that crosses the line of scrimmage and is muffed or fumbled by the defensive team is a failed opportunity to possess.
Ryan, by the way, thinks the Jets have to be patient all game with Manning. He's played him and lost in lots of different kinds of games -- field-goal games, high-scoring games -- and believes you've got to play to outscore him, because you won't hold him to 10 or 13. "You're not going to win a defensive-struggle kind of game with him,'' Ryan said. "You've got to score. On defense, you've got to be patient, and you've got to try to deflect the ball when you can. Those are chances for good plays to happen.''
You'd think he wouldn't be the player feeling the most heat this weekend; and quite honestly, I have no idea what he's feeling right now. But the dynamics of the Vick story have changed in the last couple of months. He's gone from the Redemption Story of the Year to What Have You Done For Me Lately. Unfair, really, because he's been such a phenomenal player overall this year that whatever happens in the game against the Packers shouldn't severely tarnish this season. But it might in Philly, where they're used to quarterbacks coming up short in big games.
Vick is coming off a poor game in Week 16 against Minnesota, a deep thigh bruise that caused him to miss the final game of the year, and the Eagles have surrendered 12 sacks in the last two games. Vick's going to be playing a mysterious defensive scheme choreographed by Dom Capers, who can send the pressure from everywhere. Could be trouble for Vick's recognition of the rush, which he's clearly been vexed by. Capers-Vick. Chess match of the weekend.
Julius Jones' rushing line for New Orleans vs. the team that released him last spring, Seattle:
The Ravens are going to run it and then try to run it some more, and the Chiefs' run defense has been lousy over the last five weeks (5.0 yards per rush allowed over the last five games).That puts the pressure at the point of attack, right on the Kansas City nose, a 10-year, 315-pound journeyman (five years in Buffalo, five in K.C.) from Texas A&M. If the Chiefs are going to advance, Edwards has to handle his gaps and stop Ray Rice from getting a head of steam.