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BillyCarpenter1 09-26-2003 11:33 AM

When in doubt, pass on second down!

When in doubt, pass on second down!
By Gregg Easterbrook
Page 2 columnist

When you pass, traditionalists say, three things can happen and two of them are bad -- completion, incompletion or interception. Actually four things can happen and three of them are bad -- completion, incompletion, interception or sack. It's a Darwinian world.

But consider that when you run, three things can happen, and two of them are bad -- gain, loss or fumble. Actually four things can happen and three of them are bad -- gain, no gain, loss or fumble. So there are eight possible outcomes of offensive plays, and six are negative. That's the same negative-positive outcome ratio of the typical date!

But although Tuesday Morning Quarterback thinks the NFL has gone pass-wacky, there's one kind of run TMQ dreads: the predictable second-down rush after an incompletion on first down.

Watch football and behold it over and over again. Teams that throw incomplete on first down feel they must run on second down; defenses know this; the second-down rush is invariably stuffed; suddenly, it's third-and-long. Coaches planning to call the totally obvious rush following an incompletion on first down might as well tell the officials they are waiving their second down and will proceed directly to third-and-10.

Vinny, after you throw your incompletion on first down, please don't bother with the handoff to Curtis Martin on second down.

Reader Michael Hall, a golf course superintendent at Shadow Wood Country Club in Bonita Bay, Florida, wrote to TMQ, "It seems that a team that throws an incomplete pass on first down will run the ball on second down most of the time, and usually get stuffed because the defense knows what is coming."

Statistically true? Tuesday Morning Quarterback looked at three close games from Sunday -- New Orleans at Tennessee, Jersey/B at New England and Minnesota at Detroit. (I did not check blowouts, on the theory that in the second half of a blowout, the trailing team is almost always passing and the leading team almost always running.) In these games, there were 12 incompletions on first down that were followed by rushes on second down; the runs netted just 9 yards. Ye gods.

TMQ will track this stat through the season to see if it's a representative outcome. But it seems clear that if you decide to pass on first down, and the pass clangs to the ground, you've got to screen or reverse or something on second down; a run up the middle will surely be stuffed. TMQ proclaims an immutable law: Clang on First Bars Run on Second.

In other NFL news, the Ravens caught the last plane for the coast on Wednesday evening, leaving Baltimore early to be sure of averting the Thursday arrival of Hurricane Isabel and making Sunday's appearance at San Diego. Sportswriters and sports commentators, including on ESPN Radio's Sunday pregame show, bemoaned what a disadvantage the early departure from home base was for the Ravens. Disadvantage? They won 24-10.

TMQ has long been mystified that NFL teams going from the West Coast to East Coast or vice-versa don't leave until late Friday or even Saturday morning -- thus insuring they will play jet-lagged and groggy on Sunday. Every team bound for the opposite coast should depart on Wednesday! Coaches and travel departments, please take note.

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TheOriginalSwampdog 09-26-2003 02:05 PM

When in doubt, pass on second down!
What exactly does this mean? Brooks can\'t complete balls on first, second or third down.

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