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Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Updated: October 10, 10:36 AM ET
In the NFL, simplicity still works

By Gregg Easterbrook
ESPN Playbook

The surprise team of the young season is the Minnesota Vikings, who already have more wins than in all of 2011. The Vikes opened 1-1, then posted three straight victories, including over San Francisco and Detroit, playoff teams from last season. What is Minnesota's secret? The Vikings threw out complex schemes and went simple.

Which raises the question -- has football gotten too complicated?

Nearly all teams now use multiple checks, "sims" and audibles at the line of scrimmage. Offenses have dozens of formations with hundreds of possible plays. Defenses have multiple fronts, personnel packages for every down-and-distance, complicated twists and rotating coverages. Yet for all this complexity, game statistics have changed only a little in the last half century.

In the end, football is about how you line up and play. Does complexity accomplish anything? Sunday, no one at all from the Atlanta Falcons covered Santana Moss of the Redskins on his 77-yard touchdown catch. Maybe a simpler scheme would suffice.

Then there's the profusion of coaches. The Vikings employ 22 coaches, most in the NFL. Having 22 coaches sounds like having five girlfriends -- way too many to juggle. Players couldn't possibly relate to 22 coaches, while the coaches would engage in busy work by drawing up ever-more-complicated plans, in order to justify their presence.

Does a football team really need separate coaches for inside and outside linebackers? Two defensive line coaches and two wide receivers coaches? (That's the actual for Minnesota.) The Lions have surrendered four kick-return touchdowns in four games, yet employ two coaches who do nothing but special teams. Maybe Detroit would perform better on special teams with fewer special-teams coaches! The Raiders have 20 coaches, including an offensive coordinator, a senior offensive assistant, an offensive quality control coach and two offensive line coaches. Yet their offense is 29th-ranked and their record is 1-3. Maybe they would perform better with fewer coaches and simpler schemes!

There is so much money in football today that the temptation is to hire more coaches, watch more film, design more schemes, add pages to the playbook. Anyone who's ever worked in a large organization knows that too much weight at the top prevents organizations from functioning smoothly. If the State Department and Defense Department had half as many senior managers, they would perform better. In big organizations, senior personnel gum up the works because they must justify their paychecks -- everybody wants input into everything. In sports, the more coaches, the more schemes and the more egos that must be mollified.

Maybe teams should just line up and play!

For years a question about football has been -- what's the next innovation? Recent innovations on offense and defense have consistently led to increased complexity. Perhaps the next new thing will be simplification.

In Hall of Fame news, Drew Brees threw himself in, breaking the Johnny Unitas record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass. If Brees were coming out of college today, is there any chance he would have stuck around long enough to become a star?

For his first three seasons, Brees struggled to learn the NFL ropes, throwing 31 interceptions versus 29 touchdown passes. The news-cycle pace of life has accelerated so much, merely in the short time since Brees joined the NFL, that today, he wouldn't have had a career beyond his third season. Brees would have been benched, or waived out of football, before he blossomed.

In safety news, the league just debuted a commercial in which Tom Brady, Ray Lewis, Lewis's mother, NFL vice president Carl Johnson and a medical researcher talk about plans to make football safer. Except Ray Lewis's mother is not his mother -- she is an actress. More importantly, the medical researcher is not a medical researcher. He's an actor. The commercial is phony.

Wearing a white lab coat and standing in what appears to be a research facility, the fake scientist talks confidently about progress. But he's just reading lines; he might as well be saying, "I'm putting Bruce Willis in my time machine." The phony doctor declares the NFL will donate $100 million to brain trauma research over the next 10 years. Last month the league pledged $30 million to the National Institutes of Health. The league is asking credit for money it hasn't actually given yet.

But the key thing is the commercial deceives the audience. The league does not disclose that the "doctor" presented is a fake.

There are highly credible concussion researchers at Boston University, the Cleveland Clinic, the University of Pittsburgh and elsewhere. So in a spot with real football players and a real NFL official, why was an actor falsely presented as a scientist? Perhaps no genuine, credible researcher was willing to toe the desired PR line. League spokesman Greg Aiello told me an actor was used "to ensure that it was an effective commercial." Truthfulness is effective; the purpose of phoniness is to deceive the public.

In standings news, we haven't even reached United Nations Day, let alone Halloween, and already there is no possible pairing of undefeated teams remaining in the regular season. Meanwhile, San Francisco has won its last two by a combined 79-3. Um, that's adequate.

Stats of the Week No. 1: Bears defensive back Charles Tillman has more career touchdowns (seven) than Bears wide receivers Earl Bennett, Dane Sanzenbacher or Alshon Jeffrey.

Stats of the Week No. 2: The Patriots have defeated the Broncos three times in the last 10 months.

Stats of the Week No. 3: On the Colts' game-winning final drive: 15 yards to Reggie Wayne, 12 yards to Wayne, 15 yards to Wayne, 18 yards to Wayne, four-yard touchdown to Wayne.

Stats of the Week No. 4: Michael Vick and Matt Cassel have combined to commit 25 turnovers.

Stats of the Week No. 5: Green Bay and New Orleans have followed a combined 30-2 streak with a combined 3-9 streak.

Stats of the Week No. 6: In the last two games, the Bills' defense has allowed 97 points, 1,201 yards of offense and seven 100-yard performances.

Stats of the Week No. 7: The Rams have a winning record for the first time since November 2006.

Stats of the Week No. 8: Redskins placekicker Billy Cundiff has missed four of his last six field goal attempts.

Stats of the Week No. 9: Against Stanford, the University of Arizona gained 617 yards on offense, made 38 first downs, scored 48 points, and lost.

Stats of the Week No. 10: The Jets have three offensive touchdowns in their last four games.

Sweet Play of the Week: San Diego leading 7-0, New Orleans faced third-and-6 on the Bolts' 40. Devery Henderson, split right, ran an out-and-up. Highly drafted cornerback Quentin Jammer bit so badly, he'll need to see a dentist. Highly drafted Eric Weddle, the safety on that side, bit so badly on a middle fake that he will need new cleats, since his appeared glued to the turf. Henderson took a perfect strike in stride with no defender within 10 yards, and Brees had the record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass.

There's a measure of luck involved in any sports record that involves a long streak, and who cares if touchdowns come by air or ground? But having the record is sweet.

Sour Play of the Week: A week ago, Carolina lost to Atlanta when coach Ron Rivera would not go for it on fourth-and-1 late. Now it's Seattle 16, Carolina 10, the Panthers facing fourth-and-goal on the Bluish Men Group's 1 just inside four minutes. Yes, they're going for it! Cam Newton play-faked, rolled right and retreated to the 12 before launching a terrible pass that fell incomplete. You need 1 yard, why sprint backward?

Sweet 'N' Sour Plays of the Week: Jersey/A first-round draft choice David Wilson fumbled on his first carry in the NFL, and had since been relegated to the doghouse. But you've got to fumble to be a Giants tailback! Jersey/A leading Cleveland 34-20 with six minutes remaining, Wilson ran untouched 40 yards for his first pro touchdown. That it was an untouched off-tackle rush -- pretty rare -- made the down sweet.

Score Giants 34, Browns 17, Cleveland faced fourth-and-3 on the Jersey/A 23 late in the third quarter. The visitors had jumped to a quick 14-0 lead, then the home team, renowned for not showing up 'til halftime, roared back. Don't send in the placekicker! Pulling to a 34-20 deficit on the road late against a team that owns the fourth quarter isn't going to help. The Browns needed to seize the momentum, and if risk was involved, you're down by 17 points against the defending champions. Victories don't come in the mail, play to win! As the very sour field goal attempt boomed, TMQ wrote the words "game over" in his notebook.

Sneaky Play of the Week: New England leading Denver 17-7 in the third quarter, the Patriots faced second-and-10 on the Broncos' 17. Tom Brady shouted and gestured, seeming to call a checkoff and making blocking assignments -- "52 is the mike!" was one instruction he shouted, meaning the middle linebacker. Then he barked a hard count, and Denver jumped offside. What hard-count word did Brady bark? "Warren!" Denver employs defensive tackle Ty Warren. Hearing their teammate's name made the Broncos defensive line jump.

The Patriots are pass-wacky, right? That's the conventional wisdom. At 165 yards per game, New England is third in the NFL in rushing. In consecutive games versus the Bills and Broncos, Brady has seen backed-off nickel and dime looks intended to frustrate the pass, and responded by running the ball. How sneaky! Between the usual drip-drip-drip passing of the Flying Elvii offense, and lots of rushes, New England beat Denver with clock-control drives of 16 plays, 16 plays, 14 plays and 12 plays.

Tim Riggins, Brooklyn Decker Defeat Space Armada: The big-budget flick "Battleship" had Taylor Kitsch (Riggins on "Friday Night Lights") leading an improbable counterattack against a space alien invasion that begins off Hawaii. The aliens had faster-than-light starcruisers with force fields. The Earthlings had a shirtless hunk, a bikini model and some geezers on an obsolete battleship. The aliens never stood a chance!

The aliens cannot locate the good guys at night -- the super-advanced invaders have antigravity devices but don't know about infrared or radar. The climax scene involved elaborately maneuvering the Missouri, commissioned 1944, abeam of the main alien vessel, so the old battlewagon could fire a point-blank broadside from her 16-inch guns. This, though in the Pacific in World War II, battleships rarely were able to get within many miles of enemy capital ships, as air power supplanted cannons in ocean warfare.

The movie begins with exposition about NASA in 2005 discovering an Earth-like planet that is nearby in galactic terms, then in 2006, beaming a greetings message, which attracts an attack. That would mean the alien world must be within six light-years, the maximum distance a radio message could travel from 2006 to 2012. While little is known about planets in the bulk of the Milky Way, the "neighborhood" near our solar system has been mapped and it's unlikely there is an Earth-like world within six light years. Plus if the aliens lived close by galactic standards, and possessed faster-than-light travel, they would have found us long ago.

Needless to say, Hollywood blockbusters do not aspire to realism. But the opening scene of "Battleship" raises a question that needs debate. Now that the Kepler probe, launched in 2009 and designed to detect other worlds, has begun discovering "exoplanets" in great numbers, it seems only a matter of time until an Earth-like place is located. When that time comes, should we send a message?

In 1974, astronomer Carl Sagan and colleagues used the Arecibo radio telescope to beam a message toward the Great Cluster, a star group 25,000 light-years away. The message will not arrive for 25,000 years. Should any intelligent species receive and understand the message, then respond via radio, a total of 50,000 years will pass before the reply. By then the federal budget will be balanced!

Sagan's message used binary code to depict stick figures of men and women, had chemical formulas to show that the message was a product of intelligence (men and women surely don't prove that) and included a schematic of the solar system. Most likely the message will never be heard. If it is and a reply sent, human society will have changed so much in 50,000 years -- assuming humanity exists -- that the impact is impossible to project. If an advanced species hearing the message possesses faster communications than radio and sends an immediate reply, this still will happen so far in the future that human society by then may be unrecognizable to us.

But suppose an Earth-like world is discovered within the Gliese zone, the stars known to exist close to us in galactic terms. What about contacting a "nearby" world?

Of course there may be no intelligent species to hear, or if the message is understood, the other world might not wish to reveal itself. If radio contact were established, even problems such as a century-long response lag -- 50 years to reach a world 50 light-years distant, 50 years for the reply -- could be worth the effort. Advanced aliens might give a valuable yes-or-no answer to questions such as, "Is fusion a practical energy source?" Imagine the import of an alien to answer the yes-or-no question, "Does your society believe in God?" And if meaningful communication is hard to establish -- we could be as mysterious to them as they to us -- simply knowing Earth is not alone would have profound relevance for human thought.

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Or would a radio message draw invaders upon Earth?

A space-alien invasion would seem unlikely for the simple reason that an advance species wouldn't bother. In the movies, the aliens always seek water or minerals. The galaxy is so rich in resources (including vast amounts of water) that it's hard to see why anyone possessing interstellar travel would go to the trouble of conquering another world for resources that are available free throughout space.

But aliens might wish to stage preemptive attacks on worlds that could someday acquire the ability to attack them. They might view people as animals who lack moral standing, or might not have any concept of morals. They might seek conquest for reasons of leaders' egos, the way kaisers and tsars of past centuries were not content merely to be kings, wanting to be emperors. Space dwellers might have motives inexplicable to us, but that seem normal to them. When the conquistadors invaded the old Aztec lands, they sought gold and demanded the natives convert to Christianity. From the Aztec perspective, why would anyone possessing such magnificence as steel and ocean-going ships care about something as minor as gold, and what sense did it make to insist that a pacifist be worshipped on pain of death? The motives of aliens could be as baffling to us as the motives of the Spaniards seemed to the Aztecs.

Whether humanity should attempt to contact another Earth-like world is a debate worth having. This question may come up sooner than expected.

Patriots Win the Game But Lose the Commercials Peyton Manning, the leading NFL television spokesman, endorses DirecTV, Sony, Gatorade, Papa John's, Buick, Oreos and other products. Tom Brady, who is Manning's peer as a star and has two more Super Bowl rings, endorses Movado, Visa, Smart Water and other products . But Manning is on the tube constantly, while Brady makes high-profile TV product pitches only occasionally.

Why is Manning viewed as the better endorser? Maybe it's his aw-shucks persona, compared to Brady's jet-set image. Maybe Manning comes out ahead owing to his flair for self-deprecating humor: Brady seems uncomfortable making fun of himself. Or maybe Brady will only endorse products he actually uses.

Monday Night Analysis: The final possible pairing of undefeated teams this season is 18-0 Houston meeting 18-0 Atlanta in the Super Bowl. This can be assumed improbable, so it's only early October, and already there are no more contests between undefeated NFL teams.

In the offseason, touts were shocked that Houston traded DeMeco Ryans and let Mario Williams walk. Now these moves seem savvy -- Williams is giving Ryan Leaf a run for most overrated football player of all time, while the Moo Cows' defense, without these gentlemen, is No. 3 in yards allowed and No. 4 in points allowed. We'll know more about the Houston defense once it has faced Green Bay and New England, and once the prognosis for Brian Cushing is known. For now, it continues to look like Wade Phillips, who was a deer in the headlights as a head coach, is a master at coaching defense.

As for the Houston offense, it continues to be a shame that tight end Owen Daniels was not named Godfrey Daniels. That way announcers could cry, "Godfrey Daniels, he's open!" And he's open a lot. In an era of high-tech pass-wacky five-wides, the Texans use a traditionalist offense that operates from a huddle, rushes more than passes, has a fullback on the field and features the tight end off boots.

At Jersey/B on "Monday Night Football," Houston first established that it would run in the direction of the fullback. Then the Texans lined up strong right, the offensive line zone blocked right, the fullback went right, Matt Schaub play-faked to the tailback right and bootlegged left to throw a deep touchdown to the tight end running a post. Godfrey Daniels!

Adventures in Officiating: With 39 seconds remaining at Indianapolis, Andrew Luck dove for a first down at the Green Bay 4. Officials stopped the game for three minutes to review whether Luck made the first down, ultimately confirming the call on the field. A call on the field is supposed to be overturned only if it is obvious the call was wrong -- if you can't be sure whether the call was wrong, the original ruling should stand. How can several minutes of multiple viewings be required to determine if something is obvious? It's either obvious or it's not! If replay officials are looking at the play over and over and over again, then they can't be sure what happened so the call on the field must stand. The replay review booth should be limited to two viewings of the play.

Trailing 22-21, the Packers reached first-and-goal at the Indianapolis 8 with 4:48 remaining -- then scored too quickly, with a first-down pass. Had Green Bay rushed once or twice to advance the clock, the Colts might have run out of time.

Concussion Watch: Kansas City put tight end Kevin Boss on injured reserve last week after he suffered his third severe concussion in four seasons. A generation ago, coaches would have told Boss to get back on the field. If his NFL days are over, he'll be sad -- but better to walk away under his own power.

Fans Complained About the Replacement Cellos: Musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra briefly went on strike last month, outraged by a contract offer of a minimum of $145,000 annually. Now the Minnesota Orchestra, less moneyed than the Chicago Symphony, is locked out over management's insistence that members lower their average annual salary to $89,000. Reader Josh Mattson of Eau Claire, Wis., notes the leader of the American Federation of Musicians calls the Minnesota Orchestra management's position "economic terrorism." Performing in an orchestra requires great skill, but there are lots of people who would appreciate being "terrorized" at $89,000 a year in a pleasant setting, with 10 weeks' vacation and generous benefits.

Owing to the way the arts are financed, when orchestra members either go on strike or cause a lockout by declining a contract offer, essentially they are demanding more charity. Only a third of the Minnesota Orchestra's revenues come from ticket sales, the part of the orchestra's finances for which musicians deserve credit. The rest of the revenue is contributions or spending of endowment funds given in the past. If the people who play the music demand more than the orchestra's ticket sales income, essentially they are demanding more charity. Music is important to the civic sphere -- but shouldn't the poor have first claim on charity, not upper-crust musicians?

Revenge of the Defense: Last week, Tuesday Morning Quarterback opined that it was time for defenses to assert themselves. This week, five NFL teams were held without touchdowns. Florida defeated LSU 14-6 in a clouds-of-dust contest that might have been staged in 1962, with the winner held to 237 yards of offense.

"Your Honor, I Object to Opposing Counsel's Choice of Pumps" Many states require members of the bar to engage in "continuing legal education," posting credit hours to show they have not stopped studying law. Reader Tom Blue of Chapel Hill, N.C., notes this innovation -- a lawyers-focused fashion show for which "attendees can receive one professionalism hour of CLE credit." The advert adds, "Enjoy wine and appetizers while you preview the fashions." As Firesign Theatre once said, "Hear ye, hear ye, all rise for the courtroom scene."

NFL Sides with Gambling: Tuesday Morning Quarterback readers know this column contends that government-sponsored lotteries exist mainly to fleece the poor and working-class, with active cooperation of the local network affiliates that profit from mega-millions advertising.

Is casino gambling any different? No one cares if the Donald Trumps of the world lose money at the roulette wheel. But increasingly, casino gambling is mass-marketed to average people, and beloved by local politicians who receive the kickbacks. Anyone who enters a casino knows that this decision is foolish, and there's only so much that can be done to protect people from their own bad judgment. But should society cooperate in the fleecing of fools, by licensing more casinos?

More casinos are on the ballot in my state, Maryland, next month -- see Question 7. Note the ballot initiative, essentially written by the casino company seeking the license, says casinos exist "for the primary purpose of raising revenue for education." And if you believe that, we have a bridge to sell you.

Washington-area airwaves are thick with deceptive ads from the interests on both sides of this case. Backers of the proposed casino promise far more jobs than can possibly be created, while opponents, an existing casino in West Virginia that would lose business, warn of the end of the world. The initiative has no option for voting against government-sponsored gambling. The only question is whether government-sponsored gambling can expand.

Last week the Washington Redskins weighed in on this mess by endorsing more gambling in Maryland. Surely owner Chainsaw Dan Snyder would be outraged if the Redskins were expected to take public stances on gay marriage or college tuition subsidies for illegal immigrants, two other initiatives on the Maryland ballot. But endorse gambling that is designed to fleece average people? No problem, fleecing average people is what the Redskins are all about!

And they are not alone. Though the National Football League often reiterates abhorrence of wagering on professional sports, lottos and casinos are another matter. The Redskins sell their logo to a Virginia state lotto, receiving a commission on the fleecing of the poor. The Texans sell their logo to a Texas state lottery, receiving a commission on the fleecing of the poor. The Bengals sell their logo to the Ohio state lottery, and so on for many of the league's teams. The NFL opposes sports wagering because it does not receive a cut. State lottos are another matter.

Wacky Food of the Week: Autumn leaves are beginning to turn. Two foodies selling high-end maple syrup in the Sleepy Hollow part of New York state have hired a "syrup sommelier." Maybe Johnny Appleseed employed a seed sommelier! Presumably the syrup sommelier swirls syrup in a glass while sniffing, then tastes and spits out. His blends have "brown butter finish" or "hint of roasted nuts and autumn leaves" or "suggest chocolate and molasses." Can a newsletter called the Syrup Spectator be far behind?

The syrup sommelier article induced a hilarious correction. A week later the New York Times admitted that tapping maple trees to draw syrup was not, as the article had claimed, a brand-new idea.

Buck-Buck-Brawckkkkkkk: Trailing Miami 17-13, Cincinnati faced fourth-and-5 on the Dolphins 23 with three minutes remaining. Don't send in the placekicker! After a field goal you'd still need to score again! As the kick boomed, TMQ wrote the words "game over" in his notebook. Sharing my outrage, the football gods pushed the attempt wide.

Unwanted Player on the Rise: The Seahawks are allowing just 14 points per game, with corner Brandon Browner, who went undrafted then played five seasons for the Calgary Stampeders, becoming a TMQ favorite. Sunday he had four solo tackles, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and helped hold Carolina star Cam Newton to a woeful 56.8 passer rating.

Leading 16-10, Seattle faced fourth down on its 18 with 1:05 remaining, the Cats out of timeouts. Pete Carroll had the punter take the snap and jog as slowly as possible out of the end zone -- doing this from punt formation, rather than with Russell Wilson under center, so Carolina wouldn't realize and rush the play. Making the score 16-12 did not impact the endgame dynamic, since Carolina still needed a touchdown. But after the free kick, the Panthers started from their 31; had Seattle punted, the Carolina drive start likely would have been better. Amusingly, it took the Fox announcers quite a while to realize the safety was deliberate.

Disclaimer of the Week: Reader Stuart Keenan of Muncie, Ind., received a fundraising appeal from the Mitt Romney campaign. In small type at the bottom: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. So now it's official -- campaign donations are "purchases."

Read this insightful (and thoroughly depressing) piece by James Bennet of The Atlantic detailing how contemporary American politics not only is driven by campaign money, but is becoming entirely a pursuit of campaign money, with all other questions (right and wrong, what's good for the country, dull stuff like that) secondary. Excerpt: "By late July, Barack Obama had held 194 fundraisers in his third and fourth years in office. In the same period, Ronald Reagan held three."

Bad enough that recent presidents of both parties -- Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, now Obama -- have spent public funds gallivanting around the states not working on policy solutions but fundraising for themselves and their parties, or engaging in campaign self-promotion on "The View," as Obama recently did rather than meet with heads of state present at the United Nations event. (Campaigns pay a token fee when presidents use Air Force One for personal fundraising, but the big costs -- Secret Service, closing roads, work left undone at the White House -- go straight to the taxpayer.)

How quaintly faraway is the memory of Clinton, in April 1993, attending the Oregon "owl summit" on forestry policy and pouring through technical studies with a highlighter as he listened to a parade of expert speakers. Today Clinton would skip the event to go to Los Angeles to appear on "The Tonight Show," then host Hollywood fundraisers, then fly to Ohio to speak to carefully prescreened groups of cheering supporters, and bill everything to the taxpayer.

Bennet's essay details in thoroughly depressing ways how top elected officials of both parties spend far more time fundraising for themselves than tending to the people's business. In last week's debate, Obama sputtered when Romney pushed him on why he'd held the White House nearly four years yet fulfilled so few of his electioneering promises. Obama couldn't answer: "I don't have time to do any real work, I spend all my time fundraising."

Reformers want to limit political donations: all such plans have run afoul of the First Amendment, and they should. But maybe we're thinking about this wrong. Don't try to limit donations -- forbid fundraising by current public officials.

If any person or organization wants to donate to the president or other elected official, fine, so long as the donation is disclosed. But it should not be fine for a sitting president or other elected official not only to solicit donations but to do so on public time, receiving public pay and benefits while asking interest groups for more money. Surely this engages the "actuality and appearance of corruption" the Supreme Court said in 1976 was the one aspect of political money that may be regulated.

Holding a political office is a form of employment. Employers may impose rules. If you told your employer, "I am not going to perform my duties for months at a time because I am jetting around the nation fundraising for myself, and by the way I expect my full salary," your employer would not tolerate this. Voters should not tolerate this either. Foreswearing fundraising should be one of the conditions of holding public office. And if that handed an advantage to challengers -- good, because incumbents hold too many advantages.

Buck-Buck-Brawckkkkkkk #2: Baltimore leading Kansas City 9-3, the Chiefs faced fourth-and-9 at the Ravens 11 with four minutes remaining. If you send in the placekicker, you'd better follow with an onside kick. After the field goal, Kansas City kicked away, and never touched the ball again.

During the contest, the Ravens punted, a Nevermores coverage man touched the punt downfield, then a Kansas City return man picked up the caroming ball and ran. Too risky? NFL Network's Scott Hanson knew the rule: Once the kicking team has touched a punt downfield, "nothing bad can happen to the receivers," who hold the option of result of the play or possession at the spot of first touching. So if a return man picks up the ball in this situation and then fumbles, it doesn't matter. Kudos to Hanson for knowing a rule that broadcasters usually muff.

Now this question: in a high school game, it's third-and-16. The quarterback throws incomplete, but the defense is assessed a personal foul for roughing the passer. What is the next down? (Answer below.)

Friends Don't Let Friends Punt: TMQ is following the fourth down results at Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, Ark., where head coach Kevin Kelley has eschewed the punt for years. Last season, Pulaski punted once and won the state title.

Friday night, Pulaski won 42-14 with starters leaving the game in the third quarter. Because Pulaski won handily, Bruins starters faced only two fourth downs. The results:

  • Fourth-and-7 own 38 -- pass, convert. First Pulaski possession of the game. Touchdown on the possession.
  • Fourth-and-goal on the 15 -- pass, touchdown.

Kelley notes, "From those two drives, we scored 14 points where most teams would have done the 'safe' thing and ended up with three points."

Arkansas-style football updates: Reader Lyle Beidler of Denver, Pa., reports Penn State went for it six times on fourth down, converting five, in its upset of Northwestern. Reader Soomin Song of San Antonio reports that in the second quarter versus Virginia Tech, North Carolina went for it on fourth-and-inches from its own 38, getting outside against an overstack and scoring a 62-yard touchdown run that was the game's decisive play. Cincinnati, Jersey/B and Philadelphia went on fourth-and-1 in their territory and converted, though did not prevail in their games.

Preach What You Practice: One of the ironies of American politics is that is politically conservative states like Texas tend to have high rates of crime, divorce and teen pregnancy, while the liberal states like Massachusetts and New York tend to have low crime rates and higher percentages of stable marriages. So do people become conservative because they look around and observe lawlessness and absence of traditional values, or does conservatism cause these things? Do people become liberal because they look around and observe stability and affluence, or because liberalism causes these things?

New York City was liberal in the 1980s when it was a homicide capital and is liberal now as one of the safest cities in the world to stroll after dark, making it hard to separate cause and effect.

Love him or hate him, on this subject you've got to read Charles Murray's new book "Coming Apart." His big point is that well-off liberals should "preach what they practice" -- that denizens of the high-income zip codes in blue states themselves have two-parent households with conventional marriages, strict work ethics and high educational achievement, yet contend no one should be judgmental about out-of-wedlock birth, bad public schools or welfare. Murray presents overwhelming evidence that although it's assumed anything goes in the sinful liberal cities while tradition rules in the Bible Belt, in the last generation it's been the other way around -- red states are plagued by divorce and teen pregnancy, blue states have conventional family values.

Coming from a radioactive conservative, this analysis is unsettling. Liberals, Murray charges, are harming the underclass by asserting that all lifestyles are equally valid -- when they know from their own experience that conventional behavior leads to the best economic and educational outcomes.

Reader Animadversion: I avowed it is a good thing that today almost all high school graduates aspire to attend college. Doug Lippert of Babylon, N.Y., replies, "I believe there is a parallel between the rising cost of college and the housing bubble we saw burst in 2008. The reason for both is/was the amount of loan capital freely available for the purpose of either purchasing a home, or going to college. When people can easily get a specific-purpose loan, the cost of the product tends to go up. Due to the proliferation of student loans and increased demand for college degrees, tuition costs are rising at an unsustainable rate.

"Mortgages were available due to the belief that the risk was low since there was an asset to repossess. Now we know the risks were much greater than appeared, because asset values fell. Student loans are considered low risk as well, due to the correlation between income and education and the fact that even bankruptcy proceedings don't wipe student loan debt off of the books. Now it seems both the risk and the benefit of college loans are much more questionable, since recent college grads are having a tough time getting jobs and repaying their debt.

"Will these trends burst the college-cost bubble? There could be a market correction, where the cost of tuition goes down due to lenders being less willing to write tuition loans. Unfortunately the more likely scenario is tuition will become such a burden that going to college returns to its previous status as an elite privilege. This would make a degree rarer and therefore more valuable, which would be good for well-off families but bad for everyone else."

Last week TMQ detailed how rules changes have shifted football toward the passing game. Mike Mize offers an analysis of the greater return versus risk in contemporary passing.

I chided Bob Stoops for withdrawing a scholarship offer to a high school senior who had learned he had to drop football for medical reasons: Stoops made a promise, then broke it. Aaron Gillis notes that last spring Stoops did honor a scholarship promise to a Class of 2012 athlete who had to drop football for medical reasons. Gillis writes, "It appears Stoops differentiates between verbal commitments and signed letters of intent. Depending on what you consider a promise, Stoops may only honor his some of the time, but it's not fair to say he never keeps promises to players with health problems."

On the Schiano the Weasel controversy, Brian Buntman of Rochester Hills, Mich., avers, "To prevent Schiano from using his weasel tactics during kneel-downs, the offense should come out in field goal formation. Under recent player safety rules changes, the defense cannot line up over the center on a field goal attempt - meaning an unguarded snap to the holder, who could then fall on the ball. With the ball being long-snapped, Schiano's claim that he is attempting to cause a fumbled C-Q exchange is void."

Where Was His Ski Mask and Parka? When the weather turns, TMQ's immutable law, Cold Coach = Victory, comes into play. The weather has not yet turned. Nevertheless for last Thursday night's Cardinals at Rams indoor game, Arizona placekicker Jay Feely wore gloves. Placekickers don't catch passes, and it was a balmy 70 degrees throughout the contest. If this is how Arizona players react when leaving their sun-drenched state, what's going to happen when the Cardinals play at Jersey/B on Dec. 2?

The Football Gods Gnashed Their Teeth: The Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts, Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens went empty backfield on third downs in the red zone. Maybe it's just as well Vince Lombardi did not live to see this.

The Football Gods Promised an Investigation: The Bears gained 501 yards on offense? Must be a misprint. The Bears also held Jacksonville to 45 yards of offense in the second half -- that's easy enough to believe.

Obscure College Score of the Week: Olivet Nazarene 20, Siena Heights 14 in triple overtime. There were more points scored in overtime than in regulation; Siena Heights has already played eight overtimes this season. Located in Adrian, Mich., Siena Heights urges students not to forget to eat.

Bonus College Score: Lake Erie 38, Notre Dame College 35. There is a well-known Cornell University and a less-known Cornell College; a well-known Georgetown University and a less-known Georgetown College. Located in South Euclid, Ohio, the less-known Notre Dame College seems to make the common mistake of forgetting that "notre dame" means "our lady."

Officiating Answer: The down is third-and-1 except in Massachusetts and Texas, where the down is first-and-10. Most states use the National Federation of High Schools handbook, which stipulates that a personal foul is 15 yards but not an automatic first down. Massachusetts and Texas use the NCAA rulebook, which syncs with the NFL rule.

Next Week: If Peyton Manning drank Gatorade while driving a Buick to buy a Sony so he could watch DirecTV while eating a Papa John's pizza, would the universe end?

In addition to writing Tuesday Morning Quarterback for Page 2, Gregg Easterbrook is the author of "Sonic Boom" and six other books. He is a contributing editor for The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly and The Washington Monthly. His website can be found here, and you can get a notification on Twitter when TMQ is posted.


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