So, um, first off, I have to do something I have not had to do in a very, very long time. See, I'm a "drinker". I'm not an alcoholic- really, I know I'm not- but I do enjoy the adult beverages on a fairly regular basis. Normally I know when to quit. Last night, I did not. So I'm going to have to do something of a "walk of shame" here. If I texted you, emailed you, tweeted you, found you here on Daily Norseman, or whatever and rambled on like a psychopathic madman for whom English is at best his third or fourth language to you... I'm sorry. And quite embarrassed. I promise that won't happen again. I hope.
OK, ahem. Anyways. When a football team loses a game, sometimes there is what we call a ‘goat'. The one person upon whom we focus our rage and disappointment towards. They are our sacrifice (hence the term), the blonde virgin we throw into the volcano to appease the gods of heartbroken sports fandom.
Sometimes this goat is somewhat deserved of their fate. Sometimes it really is primarily their fault: just one key play that they had not messed up on, and we would have won. Gary Anderson in the 1998 NFCCG would be such an example. But for the most part, when we pick a goat, we forget and ignore the fact that football is a team sport, and that it's very hard for one particular individual to truly deserve the blame in a loss; much like it can be somewhat misguided to overly heap praise on one person for a victory. An example of that would be Brett Favre in the 2009 NFCCG: sure, the pick was what broke our back, but had Adrian Peterson not fumbled in the redzone earlier on, had we not had 12 men in the huddle (why is that sounding familiar for some reason...), had the O-line not allowed to Saints to repeatedly hit him with illegal shots (yes, there were late hits and a particular high-low, all illegal)- well, the pick wouldn't have happened and/or mattered.
And when you lose 24-10, and the game wasn't even actually that close, this becomes particularly true. It's a team effort to fail, on all sides of the ball. The defense screwed up, special teams screwed up, and the offense... um, well, yeah. There is no one particular goat. We can try and blame Joe Webb, Jasper Brinkley, Marcus Sherels, etc. etc., but no one person truly stands out to the point that we can say "had they just not done this one thing we would have won".
Except in this case, there was one person who I am calling our goat. One person who, in my opinion, deserves a very large share of the blame. And his name is Bill Musgrave.
Chris wrote a piece regarding our offensive offense last night, and it's a good read. But I have to respectfully disagree with him. If I read it right through a somewhat still foggy mind, his point was that we were doomed the moment we turned to Webb because it was too late to tailor the offense to his strengths. But see, I don't think so. Now maybe we were doomed the moment Christian Ponder's arm got to the point he couldn't even functionally utilize a t-shirt on his own. But I just don't believe that we were doomed to the blowout I just tried to blackout from.
I know that the team was very hopeful that Ponder would return, and I can understand that therefore the offensive preparations throughout the week had to be very, very difficult. What do you do: prepare for your pocket-passing game manager, or prepare for the running QB? (Chris did nail it on the head when he specified the difference between mobile QBs and running QBs, by the way.) I get that, and I can understand that if you truly believe that Ponder would be the starter, you try and prepare your offense for him and his style of play.
But here's the thing. When we opened up the game, we acted like we had a running QB and the best running back in the NFL. We acted like Webb passing was at best a risky proposition, but that if he was taking off, or handing to a cyborg, then we could move the chains. We ran the spread, moved the chains, made our march. Yes, we fell short in the redzone and had to settle for a FG (never a good sign for our team this entire season), but up until then we did move down the field at will.
And quite honestly, that LOLWUT pass that Webb threw at the end of the drive, a pass that made Donovan McNabb scratch his head and go "what the hell was that?", should have shown us something. QBs make bad passes, sure. But that was... uh, I dunno. Honestly that's probably the exact same thing that would have happened had I been under center during that play.
So you march down the field via runs, the QB chucks it into the turf to end it, and then you decide: "Ah, screw this running thing. Let's try that pass again, it worked great last time!"
Look, right after that drive our defense showed up in a huge way, immediately forcing one of the most prolific passing attacks in the NFL to go three-and-out. It wasn't like we had to play catch-up. I may not be a fan of settling for FGs over TDs, especially against Aaron Rodgers and co., but there really was no reason at that point to not be playing it as safe as possible- but perhaps more importantly, playing to our offensive strengths. Yes, the Packers were going to start keying in that they were facing a rugby team rather than an NFL team, and focusing almost exclusively on the run, but with Peterson and Webb you can still make things happen. Just look back at that opening drive, when Webb faked the handoff to Peterson and took off. Practically the entire Packer's D swung towards Peterson (because why wouldn't they?), leaving Webb the open field to hit. Well guess what? It's not like the Packer's D could really change that habit. Go ahead. Focus less on Peterson, and leave a few guys to make sure Webb won't take off. I bet AD won't punish you for that.
Heck, even toss Toby Gerhart back there and run a two-RB set. Now what? You have three legit running threats who can gash you if you fail to key in on the right guy.
Would that have worked? Would it have gotten us the win? I don't know. Again, that style of play does lend itself towards gassing out around the redzone, racking up FGs against an opposing team that's a threat to score a TD on every drive. Then again, Peterson does always remain a TD threat every time he touches the ball anyways. And also that style of offense does one thing really well: it eats up the clock like a ravenous beast. And there's no secret that's a key to countering high-powered opposing offenses.
So would that have netted us the victory? Maybe not. But guess what, it would have been a lot better chance than having Webb airmail passes 10 yards away from Jerome Simpson. Better than having Webb stay in the pocket, only to pop-fly the ball out at the last second to avoid the sack. This isn't a guy who can pass the ball with reliable accuracy. Every pass was at the best a threat to bounce harmlessly into the turf... at worst, every pass was a threat to be outright picked off.
And that's why I blame Musgrave. As Webb himself pointed out after the game, he was just doing what he was told. He himself didn't know why we moved away from the spread-option offense that had initially worked relatively well. Look, Webb can't pass, but if the coach asks him to, he's at least going to try. I give him that. Webb didn't quit, he didn't give up on his team. He did nothing wrong outside of his own physical and skill-set limitations. While yes, his time with us may be drawing to a close, it's not because he screwed up the game on his own volition. To borrow Chris' phase, he was the square peg that his OC was trying to shove into a round hole, and he couldn't help that.
This was a playoff game. As the philosophical tome Waterboy taught us: "It's the last game of the year. Can't hold anything back now." Sure, changing the offense of the fly is difficult. Sure, it's going to cause some problems. But guess what? You must try when that's your best option; nay, your only option. And Musgrave did not try. He did not try at all. I expected after halftime a return to the same offense that had worked for us early on; again, yes, running the ball when behind isn't exactly sage football logic, but if you can't pass anyways yet know you can run very well- at least do what you can, don't try and force what you can't. Especially after repeated failures when attempting the latter.
I figured that when we hit the playoffs, with Ponder really coming into his own and the offense clicking, that Musgrave would probably be safe. I would have to swallow HC Leslie Frazier keeping him around for another season. But now I'm back to my original call: Mr. Frazier, fire this man. Replace him as soon as is feasible with a guy who can adjust when necessary, who can recognize what tools he does and does not have, and can manage a game accordingly.
One last time, I will openly admit that we might have just been screwed the moment Ponder was scratched. But I refuse to accept that, had the offensive playcalling been better, it would have been the same embarrassing thrashing. Musgrave is absolutely my goat, and I want him sacrificed.