Diner morning news: Lose twice, make adjustments

QUOTE: “One of the hardest things in this world is to admit you are wrong. And nothing is more helpful in resolving a situation than its frank admission.” -- Benjamin Disraeli, British prime minister and novelist (1804-1881)

Whenever a team wins twice against a divisional opponent, I’m often reminded of the day I received some of the best advice of my life. It was November 1992, while working for the Cleveland Browns, and I was sitting on the second team bus after getting my ass kicked by the Bengals 30-10. Normally in the NFL, each person has a specific bus they always ride; the second bus was my choice.

Bus 2 in Cleveland always had Nick Saban, our defensive coordinator, in the first seat, rocking back and forth as he prepared his sandwich after the game. Nick is an amazing coach, and we all knew back then he was going to be a great head coach. But on this day, he looked over to me and said, “Boy, what’s the matter?”

I gave him the usual response after a game like that: “I hate losing to these guys.”

Saban stared at me and said, “Until you admit they’re better than we are, we’re never going to be able to beat them. We have to give them a little respect and understand that as much as we’d like to be better than they are, they have better players than we do right now.” Being the personnel man in Cleveland at the time, those were not the words I wanted to hear, but they ended up being the best advice anyone could offer.

After that day, I gave the Bengals the respect they deserved. I went back to my office in Cleveland, made a board of each player at every matchup in the division and ranked our team honestly against the division. That method of rankings was something I did for the rest of my career. Once I had a clear understanding of where we lacked the essential talent to win against the other three teams, I set out to make adjustments to our roster. Pretty simple idea right? But it takes being honest with yourself and a frank evaluation of the talent level.

Now, this might not work for everyone, but for me, the idea of matching up correctly in the division made perfect sense. You can’t make the playoffs if you don’t win the division, so those games are the most important in terms of developing your team.

Here is what Packers GM Ted Thompson had to say about losing twice to the Vikings:

“I'm not going to compare us to the Vikings other than to say that they beat us yesterday and a few weeks ago. We have to do some things to improve a little bit. The whole point of the NFL season is your growth and your improvement during the course of the season, and we hope to do that and get better.”

It’s the middle of the season and Thompson conceded the season to the Vikings publicly, but I’m sure in the back of his mind he has to be thinking, “We must find a way to get a left tackle who can match up to Vikings defensive end Jared Allen.” When Allen was first traded to Minnesota, I’m sure the Packers had a tape made of every time Chad Clifton, their left tackle, faced Allen to better help them determine if he could match up. One player can shift the balance of power one way or another.

Thompson has to be looking at his offensive line as they match up with the Vikings and decide which players are not winning their one-on-one battles. We all know football is a team sport, but inside the team element is the one-on-one matchup that can prove to be vital to the overall success of the team.

Last Sunday, we also saw the Dolphins beat the Jets for the second time this season. And we saw the Giants lose for the third time in a row to the Eagles. (The Chargers beat the Raiders for a second time as well, but as Butch told Tony Soprano when he asked him for Phil’s location, “I can’t go there.”)

Now, we know the Jets won’t give the Dolphins any credit for being the better team, but in reality, they are better this year. As Bill Parcells would often remind me when we chatted on the phone, “You are who you are” — and the Jets are 1-4 in the AFC East. Whether it was injuries to core Jets special teams players that created the problems for their coverage teams, it doesn’t matter. The game was played and they lost. The Jets need to sit down this week and figure out where the matchups are not in their favor. They can say they have the better team all they want, but on the field, they lost both games.

The Packers know where they need to improve their team to catch up with the Vikings, but what about the Giants dealing with the Eagles? The Giants seem to have a swagger about them when they play the Birds, but that doesn’t transpose to a victory. In those three wins, the Eagles have scored 83 points to the Giants’ 42. They have 998 total yards gained, and the Giants have turned the ball over six times in the past two games.

So why have the Eagles been able to dominate the Giants the last three times? In large part, it’s because the Eagles have been able to protect, allowing just two sacks, and when the Giants can’t win the game with their front, they struggle. The Giants might want to re-evaluate the matchups the next time they play and make personnel adjustments. They must get pressure to beat the Birds.

This week, we have the Ravens taking on the Bengals in game two, so let’s hope the Ravens made the right self-evaluations after the first game and don’t end up sitting on the bus like I did in ‘92, getting beaten and saying, “We hate losing to those guys.”

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