Spread the blame

Spread the blame
By Chris Landry, Yahoo Sports
October 10, 2006

Chris Landry
Yahoo Sports
Is Drew Bledsoe the biggest problem with the Dallas Cowboys' offense?

The biggest problem with the Cowboys' offense to this point has been protection breakdowns as a result of several issues – bad play by the offensive line, the wide receivers' slow blitz recognition and adjustments to a shorter route, failure by the tight ends and running backs to consistently pick up the blitz and Bledsoe's inability to get rid of the ball quickly.

The Cowboys' game plan was to attack vertically against the Eagles' secondary because they felt they had some match-up advantages. However, the Eagles had a match-up advantage at the line of scrimmage with their extensive blitz package and depth on the defensive line. They blitzed consistently up the middle and did a nice job with end/tackle stunts to create pressure up the middle on Bledsoe, who was hit a few times on three-step drops. Any quarterback is going to struggle in that situation.

In deeper drops, Bledsoe did not get the ball out of his hands quick enough. When you are having protection problems, the best way to combat that is with either max protections or with quick-step release throws. Having receivers open downfield when you are struggling with protections can be frustrating but you must adjust the route progressions and work the short-passing game in an effort to slow down the pass rush. Then, you can work downfield with a little more efficiency once you slow down the rush pressure.

A lot has been made of the appropriate time to play a young quarterback. How do you know when a rookie quarterback is ready to get the starting nod?

It truly is a case-by-case situation. There are three progressions to a quarterback's development.

The first is learning the offense and understanding defensive fronts and coverages in a classroom setting. Until you understand what's going on, you will not recognize it on the field.

The second progression is to take what's learned from the classroom to the practice field so the recognition skills can be developed with live moving personnel. Knowing it is one thing but applying it is another. Much like a sales executive must first learn his product then develop his or her presentation skills, the same thing applies to football players.

The third and most important progression is taking it from the practice field to live game action where the speed is at its quickest. If a player has not properly progressed in the first two steps, then the game speed will be too overwhelming to have any modicum of success.

How much time is needed to progress through these steps is different for each player. For instance, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning went through the first step very quickly and the second step by midway through his first preseason. At that point, all he needed was to adjust to game speed by getting more repetitions in game action.

I was involved with the drafting of Steve McNair from Alcorn State. It took considerably more time for him to learn Steps 1 and 2. Had we played him too soon, he could have had some success using his athletic skills but likely would have never developed the correct habits initially that eventually led him to becoming a good quarterback. Playing a player before he adequately develops through the first two stages will only encourage bad habits that must later be broken.

So, when you hear individuals claim that a quarterback cannot learn anything from the sideline or holding a clipboard, you know that is only the case if they have successfully progressed through the first two steps of development.

It's also important to note that if a player is rushed too quickly or improperly developed initially, it doesn't mean that it will ruin their career; just provide a roadblock that you must work through later. Quarterbacks like Steve Young, Trent Green, Rich Gannon, Matt Hasselbeck, and Jake Delhomme were all misevaluated early in their careers. Not enough time was dedicated to the development process before making the final evaluation decision.

What did the Tennessee Titans do defensively to hold the Colts to 14 points?

Coach Jeff Fisher and his defensive staff had a good game plan defensively. They played a double-high safety look, keeping their safeties deep at the snap most of the game. While that formation led to them surrendering 154 rushing yards, they limited the big plays.

Tennessee's scheme and the fact it appears the Colts took their bye week early kept this game closer than expected.

Can you explain the Oakland Raiders' problems and how they arrived to this point?

It has more to do with the long-term construction of the team than anything else. The Raiders emphasize athletes over football players that are athletic and disregard character and intelligence in their scouting process.

So, while people see them as a talented team, those of us in football see them as a fast team that doesn't play with much quickness; an undisciplined team that does not prepare well in the offseason; and one that is not accountable for its actions – always looking to point the finger of blame elsewhere.

When you have players without a professional commitment to individually improving their football skills within a team concept and a team lacking in football instincts and intelligence, you struggle to learn and develop from your mistakes.

The Raiders re-hired Art Shell in an attempt to bring back more of a disciplined approach but when your roster hasn't been built with that in mind, it will take more time to turn things around. More importantly, the Raiders need everyone on the same page and the proper commitment from the top of the organization.

It appears that the Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers are going to battle in the AFC West. Can you compare their defenses?

The Chargers have a great space-eating nose tackle, essential for a successful 3-4 defense and a great young rush linebacker who can beat a blocker at the point of attack and close as a rusher from a standup rush position. They are physical, tough to run on and opponents will struggle to maintain an offensive rhythm against them.

The Broncos are extremely fast, pursue well and are a very good tackling unit. You can't run wide on them so you must try and catch them over-pursuing versus misdirection which is tough because they are very disciplined and have great hitting tacklers at safety. Denver also defends the pass well with a great cover cornerback (Champ Bailey) and two big hitters (John Lynch and Nick Ferguson) at safety.

Chris Landry is an NFL analyst for Yahoo! Sports.

Updated on Tuesday, Oct 10, 2006 7:11 pm, EDT

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