clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Steelers vs. Chargers: Throwing conventional thinking out the window, Norv Turner didn't coach scared

How getting fired allowed Norv Turner to out coach and out maneuver the Steelers on Sunday.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

We left a lot of plays out on the field

Does anyone have any idea what the hell this means? I've heard players and coaches from probably every team in the NFL utter this phrase after a loss. It is usually followed up with, "We just didn't capitalize on the opportunities we had out there today." These statements usually come from offensive players and coaches after putting forth a performance like the the one we had the misfortune to watch this Sunday past. But once again, what does it mean? They are never challenged on these assertions because those media in attendance at these sessions don't know enough about football to realize how nebulous these statements are.

Let's look at some examples from the game to illustrate the point I'm trying to make. The Steelers tried on a few occasions to throw the ball deep. They were able to connect once, but were unsuccessful early in the game when it still was a game. Moreover, there were a few occasions on third down that the Steelers had receivers open, but pressure caused a poor throw, a throw away, or a sack. These examples illustrate what offensive players call "missed opportunities" or "plays being left on the field." Defensive guys have another name for it: Good defense.

The Chargers took a risk on Sunday. They thought the Steelers were not good, or consistent enough, on low percentage throws to prevent them from loading the box and blitzing like crazy. On the Steelers first run play in the first quarter, the Chargers blitzed both linebackers and had each safety fly to the ball. If the Steelers were throwing play action there, it could of been a big play. But, that was the risk the Chargers took. They were going to defend the deep ball with pressure. Also, they were going to pressure on early downs to keep the Steelers in third and long so they could prevent an easy throw on third down. So, when Ben says things like plays were left on the field, he validates the entire Charger game plan. The Chargers were not afraid of the big play, and they played with reckless abandon. The Chargers game plan forced a lot of missed opportunities and forced a lot of plays to be left on the field. When Emmanual Sanders dropped that ball in the wide open field against the Ravens, that was a missed opportunity. That was a play left on the field.

Supposedly the NFL is a copycat league. Should we expect the rest of the defenses we face this year to sell out with pressure. Probably not, and here is why: They're scared.

Ben scares them. Mike Wallace scares them. Heath Miller running wide open on a hot route scares them. Why didn't the Chargers play scared? Because they are all getting fired, that's why. They don't have anything to be scared off. Their collective fates as coaches is already sealed.

You might be thinking that the Chargers were able to blitz with bravado because of the current state of the Steelers offensive line. You'd be wrong. The Chargers were not bringing five because they were confident they could win the one on one battles. They were bringing six or seven guys. Defensively, you can always outnumber the amount of blockers. Unless you are spying the quarteback, the defense is always playing 11 on 10. But, in order to bring seven guys on a blitz, you are truly putting your corners on an island. You got to have guts. When Ben overthrows Wallace, you can't say that he's too fast and we have to keep both safeties deep. Instead, you have to say that they will not consistently beat us with that pass. And the Steelers didn't.

Defense wins championships but offense gets you hired or fired.

Coaches love to say that, and sadly, many coach by that dictum. Especially in the NFL. Jerry Glanville once famously said that NFL stands for "Not For Long. He was referencing officials, but he also could have been referencing offensive innovation in the NFL because innovative coaching usually does not last long.

You know just about everyone in the NFL runs a pro style offense? The reason is because no one ever got fired for running a pro style offense. Bill Walsh is hailed by a genius by those same sportswriters that frantically write down things in their articles like, "We left a lot of plays out on the field today." But, they don't have any idea what the true genius of Bill Walsh was. Walsh did not run anything out of the ordinary in the west coast offense. He emphasized certain things (quick game) and de-emphasized others (vertical game). Walsh's genius, however, was found in how he coached the quarteback position and how he installed an offense.

When Walsh first arrived in San Francisco, he held meetings where he installed the offense to each position group. He videotaped it. Then, he forced his assistants to use all of the same verbiage and coaching points that he did. That might not sound to you like a big deal, and you'd be right. It's not a big deal, it's a huge deal. Walsh demanded that everyone coach everything his way. Many coaches don't do this. They delegate and allow their assistants to coach their way.

Walsh also coached quarterbacks extremely hard. He especially coached their footwork and ball placement. There is floating on the Internet a video that Walsh made on QB fundamentals. It's just an instructional video, but it became famous amongst coaches because Walsh is constantly griping at Montana about his ball placement. He wanted the slant to be delivered to the receiver at two inches below the top of the outside number (or something like that). Exactly there. It's comical to watch him grow visibly frustrated at Montana (Joe freaking Montana) during a simple instructional video. But what you catch a glimpse of there is the true genius of Walsh.

If you want to see innovation, watch the FCS football tournament. On Saturday, I watched some of the Old Dominion and Georgia Southern game. Old Dominion was no- huddle, up-tempo spread, and Georgia Southern was running the flexbone. Or, watch an Lousiana Tech or a West Virginia game. Those guys run the Airraid offense, which was first developed by Hal Mumme at Kentucky. That staff at Kentucky took some old Sid Gilliam stuff, combined it with Norm Chow's BYU stuff, and threw in a dash of Mouse Davis' run and shoot. The result is an offense that hardly anyone in NCAA can stop. Good defense has been defined down. If you can hold someone below 30 points, you played great defense. The most famous personification of the Airraid offense is Mike Leach, formerly of Texas Tech.

What I love about Leach is he doesn't care. He is going to run his offense and convention can be damned. Convention says you have to have balance. Leach throws the ball constantly. Convention says that you have to have a huge playbook. Leach uses an index card to call his offense and installs it in three days. Convention says that being in the shotgun all the time limits what you can do in the redzone. Leach never puts his quarterback under center. The beauty of Leach is that he didn't take the conventional coaching route. He got a law degree then decided he wanted to coach football. Therefore, he doesn't care what his peers think because he didn't come up under them. So, for example, when he tells his offensive linemen to take three and a half foot splits because it widens the route for the defensive end to get to the quarterback, he doesn't fear someone telling him he can't do that because its unconventional. He just does it.

So, Norv Turner is going to get fired. While that is bad for ole Norv for myriad reasons, it sure helped his coaching. It's unconventional to run a double move on 3rd and 1. It's unconventional to run a counter run on 3rd and 13. But, Norv did those things because he now doesn't care. Once again, no coach ever got fired for NOT running a double move on 3rd and 1. Also, coaches don't get fired for NOT running a fake punt in their own territory. Yes, I know, Harbaugh loves to run fake field goals when up by big margins. But, what Norv did on Sunday really took guts. No, let me correct myself, it really didn't. He's getting fired anyways. If he would have done it four weeks ago, that would've been gutsy.

Well, then again, it probably wouldn't have been that gutsy then either. With the element of surprise, there no way Stevenson Sylvester (who had contain) doesn't get blocked on that fake punt. Coaches love to hide behind percentages and numbers when it favors them. But, it's been shown that the numbers and the percentages favor them going for it more often on 4th down. But, they don't because coaches don't get fired for NOT going for it more often on 4th down. Coaches don't get fired for not faking plays on special teams like Les Miles at LSU does, or this crazy high school coach who never kicks off or punts.

Sean Payton is hailed for calling an onsides kick at the beginning of the second half of Super Bowl XLIV. But, if he had a numbers advantage, if the players showed proficiency at executing the play, and he had the element of surprise, wouldn't he be foolish not to run it?

Innovation is slowly creeping in the NFL. Teams are incorporating more college, "spread" concepts in their passing games and as a result, some rookie quartebacks are flourishing. While some teams get stymied for one and a half quarters only to magically find some rhythm when they go no huddle, the Patriots run a two minute offense the entire game.

Norv Turner was successful on Sunday because he felt the freedom to do the things he felt were necessary to win the game. He was not constrained by convention, and he was not concerned about the backlash he would receive from not converting things like a fake punt. The sad truth is that the Steelers coached scared, but so does every other coach in the NFL. Greg Schiano, who is undoubtedly an ass, got yelled at by Tom Coughlin for having his guys dive at the snap during the Giants victory formation. Coughlin's basic argument was, "Hey, you can't do that because no one does it so one of our guys may have gotten hurt!" Using that same logic, Tennessee should have never run the Music City Miracle in 2000 because poor Wade Phillips and the Buffalo Bills weren't expecting it and someone might have gotten hurt. I mean, it was a kickoff for goodness sake! I'm shocked Goodell has not fined Fisher retroactively.

Schiano hurt Coughlin's feelings, so I'll be shocked if he does it again. Schiano violated an unwritten rule (convention) which states that coaches cannot do anything out of the ordinary designed to actually win the game.

Herm Edwards famously said that you play to win the game. He was wrong. Most coaches play not to get fired. Kudos to Turner for finally playing to win, but shame on him for waiting this long to do it.