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Diner morning news: Mailbag day

Prevent defense, Titans’ arrogance, Childress and more. Michael Lombardi

Print This October 23, 2009, 10:10 AM EST

QUOTE: “Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.” -- Henry Ford

Happy Friday to all. A couple of thoughts before we get to the mailbag…

I think SI.com’s Peter King tweeted it best about the Napa County (Calif.) DA’s decision Thursday not to file charges in the Tom Cable/Randy Hanson case: a) what action, if any, the NFL takes against Cable; b) whether Cable sues Hanson; c) whether Hanson sues Cable. There’s still a story here. King is right — more to come….

Someone asked if the Packers were serious about obtaining a running back, and from my sources around the league, they were very aggressive in asking about backs who may or may not have been available. In the end, teams refused to continue the talks, so it would be hard to know how serious the Packers would have been.

Now, on to the mailbag…

This is one of those age-old sayings: ‘The only thing a prevent defense prevents is winning.’ Every fan and media member keeps repeating it, but coaches keep running it. They must know something we do not. What is it? Is there a stat that shows that it’s effective? Is that saying just a myth? Thanks for all the great work that you do!

-- Mike

Defense at the end of the game is tough to play, in large part because you’re protecting the score totally. If a score happens in the middle of the game, you might have time to recover; at the end of the game, there’s no time. But the good teams that play the best in the final two minutes of the half, or at the end of the game, have good pass rushers. All successful defense starts with a pass rush. Too me, what drives fans crazy is the passiveness teams might chose to play at the end of games.

This year, Dallas has the worse two-minute defense in the NFL, allowing three touchdowns, followed by Kansas City, St. Louis and Philadelphia. What do they have in common? Lack of a pass rush. The best team? The Tennessee Titans, because the game is over before the end of the game. New England, New Orleans and Miami are the other best teams at the end of the game.

With no salary cap next year and LeSean McCoy looking the way he does, would the Eagles consider cutting ties with Brian Westbrook after the season?

-- James

I’m not sure McCoy is ready for the full-time job of being the Eagles’ main runner and protector. If the Eagles advance into the playoffs, it will be because of Westbrook’s play. He might not be the same player he once was because of all the injuries, but he’s still very effective and has big-play ability. As long as Andy Reid doesn’t ever use a bigger type of back, Westbrook is the best solution right now and probably next year.

In week 15 last year, the Titans beat the Steelers to lock up home field advantage. After that game, LenDale White (and) a few others stomped on the Terrible Towel and dragged it through the mud. They acted as if they'd just beaten the Steelers in the championship game. Not quite. And the Titans have lost EVERY single game since then (eight and counting), with Sunday’s 59-0 drubbing in New England the worst yet. The Titans, who had accomplished nothing with that win over Pittsburgh, acted as if the race were done. But who lost at home in the playoffs and (who) won the Super Bowl?

Character is determined in the moment between stimulus and response. Having secured home field, the Titans acted in an arrogant and disrespectful way to a franchise that consistently outperformed them. They are reaping the rewards of that hubris. The lack of character showed through. I am reminded of the Bengals saying it was a new era in the division, like going from black and white to color TV, when they clinched the AFC North in 2005. They lost to Pittsburgh in the playoffs and had three horrible seasons after that.

-- Bob

I agree, Bob. Teams need to act like they can handle success — being passionate, but not arrogant, about winning. The Titans showed a lack of maturity, and based on their level of play this year, they still lack maturity. Success is hard, and clearly the Titans did not know how to handle it after the Steelers game. They came back this year with a belief that winning in the NFL is not difficult; they thought all they had to do was show up. As someone once said, the best soldier is the hungry soldier, and the Titans lost their hunger after the Steelers game.

I love the unvarnished honesty of your analysis, and that of the NFP in general. With that in mind, maybe I need to step back from the Purple Kool-Aid. However, I feel like Brad Childress has improved markedly as a coach the last few years from an overrated guru to where I no longer dread his clock management and ability to game plan against good to great coaching staffs. “Adrian Left” was never a plan.

You like to talk about experience as an essential quality, and I feel like he got his the hard way and it’s paying off now that he has a QB who can execute the WCO in its primordial terrifying form.

I realize you’re inundated with tweets, emails and NFL network gigs, but if you have time I'd like your take on the Minnesota Tampa2. Missed tackles aside, it looks like we give up yardage in the middle almost by design to limit the deep strike big-play potential opposing teams (make them beat you with TEs and YAC). With our Mastodon class LBs, is our defense just unusual for the Tampa2, where teams must throw and thus the stats look bad and thus by design. Or is it a flawed scheme/personal approach?

-- Andrew

Great question, and a little bit of both. The Vikings have the biggest group of linebackers in the NFL. They are best when they come forward more than when they have to move back into space. But in the Tampa 2 scheme, the Mike and the Will are runners. They must be able to cover first, especially the Mike, and they must be able to make plays in space. So the backers in Minnesota are not perfect for the scheme. However, the Vikings need to run a defense that can highlight their defensive line, especially with their offense gaining the lead early in the game. They want to run a scheme that forces teams to work the ball down the field, figuring at some point during the drive they’ll get a sack. So in effect, they’re married to this scheme and must work and improve on the Tampa 2 beater plays.

As for Chilly, I’m impressed that he’s allowed Brett Favre take over the offense. Not sure about the clock management improvement, but we’ll get a good look this week when he takes the team to Pittsburgh.

I have a question regarding Brandon Stokley’s touchdown against San Diego last Monday. My friend argues that the ball doesn't have to cross the goal line as long as the receiver is in bound in the end zone so Stokely’s TD is valid. I contest that the ball has to cross the goal line to have a valid TD, which the replay is not certain due to the viewing angle of the camera to confirm whether the football has crossed the goal line.

My friend also used the 2006 NFL rule book below:

From Rule 11, section 2, article 1 “it is a touchdown:
a) when the runner advances from the field of play and the ball touches the opponents goal line (plane); or
b) while inbounds any player catches or recovers a loose ball (3-2-3) on or behind the opponents’ goal line”
From Rule 3, section 2, article 3 a “loose ball” is simply “a live ball that is not in player possession, i.e. any kick pass or fumble.”

And he said the player is the subject in the sentence to be on or behind the opponent's goal line, hence the ball is inconsequential as long as the player is inbounds in the end zone. He also indicates that he's a high football coach and they always rule it as a TD if the player is in bound in the end zone whether the ball cross the goal line or not. I read the rule differently that the ball has to be on or cross the goal line.

Since you are a person of wisdom and have access to high authority in the NFL official world, can you help me to settle the question? Thanks a lot, Michael.

– Lanny

The ball is the only part that must be in the end zone. The line of the end zone is like a sheet of glass that can only be broken by the ball, not by a body. All that needs to break the plane of the goal line is any part of the ball. That’s the most critical factor.

I had a teacher who said that distance lends the best perspective. Having been out of the NFL for a bit now, what perspective have you gained? What do you know now that you wished you knew then? Are there things you can't see when you're in the middle of the storm (i.e. an NFL front office) that are more clear now?

-- Mike

I think being removed always allows you a fresh perspective. In my case, whether I’m in the league or not, I’m always trying to improve my knowledge of the league. The fact I don’t have a logo on my chest doesn’t change my preparation for the game. I love the game. Bruce Springsteen once said he could live without being a rock star, but he could not live without the music. I feel the same. I can live without the logo on my chest, but I can’t live without football.

The game provides you something new to learn each day, but the most critical factor is the teacher. Learning the game from the wrong perspective isn’t helpful, so being out of the league allows me to focus on the people I respect and gain knowledge from them.

As a diehard Redskins fan, I often think in my head how this team could have avoided the current mess they're in. My question is about the late '90s and how some decisions could have changed the future for the Redskins. To your knowledge, was John Kent Cooke seen around the league as a good owner or had a good football sense the short time he was in charge? He was willing to spend money, as we saw with the Wilkinson and Stubblefield deals, but was he known around the league as someone that could run a team? Do you think if the team had signed Trent Green in 1998 that the Redskins would have had a franchise quarterback for the next seven years? Or was he a product of the Al Saunders offense?

-- Anthony

I believe Mr. Cooke allowed his people to run the team much like his father did. Trent Green was a good player and he was going to be a good player for the ‘Skins. That mistake cost them some very hard times. All the teams that fail or fall down can be related to the lack of a quarterback, or making a mistake on the quarterback.

That’s why it’s essential to evaluate your team correctly. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses in your own team requires being objective and self-critical, something the current Redskins front office doesn’t handle very well.

Follow me on Twitter: michaelombardi

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