I've been watching football roughly 30 years and I see the same phenomenon again and again and I'm left scratching my head as to why. Why do normally intelligent people continue to make what appears to be the same mistake over and over again?
Here's the scenario: Your team is ahead. The end of the game or half is near. You've been hammering the opposing quarterback with blitzes, pressures and confusing coverage all game. And what do you do for the last two minutes of the half? You play a very vanilla prevent defense with deep safety help to "prevent" the big play. You stop doing everything you've done well all game and instead play this brainless defense.
And you "prevent" your team from winning, or you let the team right back in the game.
What does the "prevent" defense actually prevent? Why do defensive coordinators insist on playing this defense at the end of the half or the game? What does it actually prevent?
Sure, it works, probably more than half the time. But it usually works because the team playing prevent defense just happens to be the better team, and exactly why they're ahead in the first place. Or, the opposing quarterback isn't Peyton Manning or Tom Brady or Drew Brees…..instead, he's Rex Grossman (sorry, had to take the shot Bears fans).
But seriously folks, why?
Brees marches the Saints down for a quick score in less than one minute letting the Saints back in the game and giving them all momentum heading into the locker room at half time.
The Saints defense then forced a three-and-out series on Chicago's opening drive of the second half and then immediately scored to narrow the lead to 16-14.
Ultimately, the Saints would crumble, but that one ridiculous decision let the "Aints" right back in the game.
So it can't possibly happen twice in the same day, can it? These are the four best teams in football with arguably the best defensive minds running the show, correct?
The Patriots jumped out to a quick 21-3 lead early in the second game. With three minutes left to go until half time, Peyton Manning, who had been sacked, hurried, beaten down and frustrated all half, takes the Colts on a 15-play drive to score a field goal right before half time.
Ah, you might say, "well it worked. They held them to three points." No, actually, it didn't work in my eyes. What it did do is give the Colts some much-needed confidence heading into half time. It also put a thin Pats defense on the field more plays than they probably needed to be. Manning threw 13 times on that drive, completing two third-and-10 situations. Players get tired rushing the passer or playing pass defense.
Fast forward to the end of the game. The Patriots get out-played the entire half but still hold the 34-31 lead with 2:17 left to go in the game. Peyton Manning has already put 25 points on the board this half. He's been nothing short of outstanding.
The Colts scrimmage from their own 20 and there are the Pats in the old stand-by, yep my buddy, the "prevent." Sure, they did try to put more pressure on Manning (at least enough to get a roughing the passer penalty), and sure enough Manning leads them down for the winning score in a minute and some change. Maybe if the Pats hadn't been on the field those extra plays at the end of the first half, maybe the roughing penalty is a sack instead.
Now I'll admit that I don't think it would've matter what defense the Pats were in at the end of the game, but I have to wonder why you'd give one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game a chance to do what he did. Like I said, I doubt they could've stopped him anyway, but if you're going down, go down swinging.
I think back to earlier this year. The Irish were in a very similar situation. With 1:02 left in the game, the Irish were down 17-13 to UCLA. Brady Quinn had been sacked five times, hurried countless others, and was just 13-of-29 on the day with one interception.
What did UCLA and DeWayne Walker decide to do? Yep, the old prevent. In fact, he rushed three at times. Give a Heisman hopeful a chance and he made them pay.
I'll admit I'm not a coach. I've never coached football in my life. These coaches have forgotten more about defense than I'll likely ever know, but can somebody explain this to me? There's an old saying here that I think applies. "Dance with the girl that brought you to the dance."
I know the "logic" behind making a decision to play this defense at this particular time, but logic is thrown out the window in the last minutes of the game. That's when playmakers make plays and do those many things that defy logic. Was it logical that Dwayne Jarrett would make an amazing play on fourth-and-nine?
I think there should be a new rule enacted throughout football at any and all levels. No team is allowed to play prevent defense ever again no matter what the circumstances or for any reason.
It won't happen, and maybe it shouldn't because we'd probably miss some amazing finishes. But I'd still like for someone to explain to me why so many defensive coordinators do this, even after they've been burned time and time again.
One thing is clear to me though, I watched two of the very best quarterbacks to ever play the game last night. It's a shame one of them had to lose.
I wonder, will new Irish defensive coordinator Corwin Brown play prevent in similar situations? If he does, I'll be cursing him all the way.