Saturday, November 22, 2008

Buffalo Recap #1 (long)

I'm going to recap last night's debacle in two parts. First (now), I will look at the game as a whole. And then, in the second post, later tonight, I will look specifically at Coach Brandon's bizarre and disgraceful post-game comments.

The game...this team was destined to break our hearts. They did it twice before against EMU and Miami, and then thanks to the poor level of play in our division, they were granted a third chance. Then, for more than three quarters they showed us the kind of football we thought we would get this year: an offense moving the ball at will and a defense that was dominating the Bulls.

I'm most pissed at myself, because I fell for it. I started to think, you know what?, this team could compete in the MAC Title game. It took too long, but we got it together. And, we can still salvage something from the season.

And then it fell apart all at once. Its one of the most incredible collapses I have ever seen, and one of the most disappointing things I have ever witnessed as a Falcon fan. Every element of the team ceased to function.

Pass rush: gone.
Pass coverage: gone.
Offensive domination: gone.
Onside kick: Are you kidding me?
Field Goals: Nope.
Playcalling aggression: LOL

I don't like to think that our team thought they had the game won, and just let up. I really don't. So, rather than play psychologist, let's look at what happened, actual facts. We simply did not execute, especially on defense, in the last 12 minutes of that football game. And, that's the third time this season that has happened.

Not just some slips ups..a total absence of execution, a screeching halt. One minute, everything is good, one minute nothing is good.

Now, that's happened three times this season. (And, I will submit, that if you look at games like Pitt and Boise, and maybe some others if I thought about it, there were similar periods, just not at the end of the game.) And it cost us three games.

Now, an explanation is that we let up. If we didn't, then what is the explanation? Do we have a poor scheme for holding leads? Are our guys tired? Do we have no leaders to rally the players when something turns in the wrong direction? It has to be something, and no matter what it is, its not a good answer.

Let's take a look at all the places this team failed in the last few minutes:

1. A general defensive collapse. (With one exception, see point 2).

Let's look.

Buffalo ran 28 plays in the last 12 minutes of the game. Those 28 plays included:

  • 26 called passes.
  • 21 of those were either completed, or a successful scramble. (81%)
  • 4 were incomplete. There was one sack.

Look at another way. Out of 28 plays....

  • 68% of those plays gained 5 or more yards.
  • There were 8 of plays of more than 10 yards (29%)
  • There were 6 plays of zero or negative yards (21%).
  • Buffalo averaged 7.3 yards per play during this period.

I understand we were in a prevent defense. I'm not anti-prevent. I understand that, executed properly, it gives us the best chance to win the game. However, (and I think I understand the concept), the idea is to limit the offense to short gains, and keep them in bounds...force them to eat up clock and eventually, you get them off the field or they run out of time.

You're also dropping lots of guys in coverage and rushing without concern for the run, so you should be able to force some incompletions and pressure.

That's where this fell apart. I doubt if those numbers above represent a prevent defense executed properly. They represent a shredding.

2. But, hey....what about the offense?

Indeed. Because we did get a stop. With about 6 left, Buffalo went on a fourth down deep in their own territory (the 26) and didn't make it. So, let's freeze that frame for a minute. On the Buffalo 26 with 6:00 left and a two score lead, and an offense that has owned Buffalo. Do you think things have to look pretty good here?

Well, not so much. We went hyper conservative (as opposed to for the kill), with three QB runs, which got six yards and a FG attempt....

3. What about the botched FG?

Yeah, that was a killer. First of all, it was 4-4 and we were moving the ball, and there's a school of thought that we should have ground it out for the first down and moved the chains. There's a good chance that we can put the game away if we do. That's easy to say now. But, I guess I can't fault the decision. A FG puts the game away too, and we have done that earlier this season. And, frankly, we should be able to make a 37 yard FG.

Sadly, we didn't even get the kick off, (don't know what happened), and we lose a gift wrapped opportunity to win the game.

Still, keep this in mind...we're still up 14 with 4 minutes left to play.

4. In the meantime, that's not all for the offense is it?

No. In a drive starting with 11:02 left, we ran a 1-10 play on the Buffalo 49. Sheehan was sacked, and then we ran (surprise!) a screen pass that lost five yards, and then Sheehan ran way short of the first down. This was, in fairness, another opportunity to put the game away with a solid drive that got at least three points.

5. How did Buffalo get two touchdowns in four minutes? (Yes, the onside kick).

Well, the overall defensive malaise is listed above, but it couldn't have happened without an onside kick. I just think that the kicking team should NEVER recover an onside kick. It is always the receiving team's fault. Buffalo kicked a slow onside kick, ran a wave of guys to block, and then the second wave of guys went for the ball.

And, you know, our guys just stood there. It was as if they had never practiced it, or didn't understand what the objective was. On a slow kick, there was plenty of time for someone to run up and grab it before it even went 10 yards. Our guys went into vapor lock, and Buffalo had the ball. If we recover it, I think the game is over.

6. Were there other things that hurt?

Yes, most notably the INT Tyler threw at the end of the first half. That TD would have made it 21-0, big momentum, and probably we don't lose.

7. Should we have tried to score on the last possession?

The Nation is absolutely buzzing on this one. I have to say, I think we handled this right. With :37 left, and a very unreliable FG unit, we would have needed to get the ball all the way to the Buffalo 20 without time outs. I think the probability was just really low and the chances of an INT better. Focusing on this takes attention away from the utter failure for the rest of the fourth quarter.

Freddie Barnes was especially upset (visibly so) at this, and it looked to some like Coach Brandon might have grabbed him. The fans certainly were. I don't know that it was the wrong thing to do.

8. What about the overtime?

Two things. First, I think we should have considered going for two at the end of the first overtime. I just think we had pushed their d-line around all game, and could have had a play that would have gotten us the two points. The Bulls were pretty confident (and who wouldn't be?, they had scored on two plays with their possession) on offense, and you had to figure that if the shoot out continued, we'd lose. (In fact, most of the people in my section left when the overtime started).

Second, in the second overtime, BG had the ball at the 1 and it was 3rd down, following a 7 yard Turner run. Turner lost a yard, and then we had a fourth down play. We decided to go for it, which I thought was the right thing to do. You had to assume that we needed a TD, plus we had already missed a FG and an XP. And, you have to figure we could get 2 yards.

Now, if we had applied to same logic to the fourth down play in regulation OR the two-point conversion in the first overtime, we might be feeling differently today. Of course, you have to execute the play.

We had been running this formation--the diamond formation, where we send four receivers out in a diamond-shaped cluster. Sheidler is in front, to block. Partridge, Turner or Barnes is in back of the diamond, with two other receivers on the wing. The idea is you throw it to the guy in the back, and the other guys block. We had some success with it, both throwing into it and then running off it the other way.

But on 4-1 on the 2, we lined up in it again. Now, I am no xs and os guy, but it seems to me why the play works for a few yards is that the defensive backs have to respect the idea that if they crowd the line, one of those wing receivers will run right by them for an easy score.

Inside the five, that's a different story. Their backs charged the formation kamikaze style, there was a mass of bodies, and the ball (and what was left of the season) sailed to the sideline without being touched or even close.

You just knew it was over, and Starks scored on the very next play.

That's the sad tale of woe. After about 48 minutes of what might have been the best football we have played this year, we completely fell apart, as listed above. There were numerous chances for the Falcons to put the game away, and salvage the season. Any one of them, if executed, and BG wins. Since none of them were, we didn't.

The team stormed off the field without the traditional alma mater with the band (or prayer, even). And Coach Brandon stormed into the press room. Which is where we will begin the next recap.

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