- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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Usually, two or three notes a week complaining about overtime pop up in my mailbag. They usually come after a team loses in overtime one possession after losing the coin toss.
"Why doesn't the league assure each team a possession in overtime?'' is the standard question. "I hate the idea that a coin toss would decide a football game" is the summation. Well, I offer you Week 11's gruesome 13-13 tie between the Philadelphia Eagles and Cincinnati Bengals as a reminder why going to a minimum two-possession overtime is a bad idea. It promotes more ties.
I contend that the football fan who can rationalize a tie in a sport that has only 256 regular-season games is probably the same fan who says, "College football doesn't need a playoff because it would minimize the importance of the regular season, and the annual debate is good for college football."
Promoting a two-possession overtime is one of many things that sound good but would hurt the game more than help it. The Eagles-Bengals deadlock was the first tie in six NFL seasons. Ties should never happen. As Herm Edwards preaches, "You play to win the game."
In a two-possession overtime, most head coaches would turn passive, not aggressive. Most would decline to accept the football if they were to win the coin toss so that they could put the initial pressure on the opponent to score, as the coach who declines would be secure in the knowledge that his team will get the ball back.
If the two possessions eat up half the 15 minutes in overtime, there is no guarantee that either team would score in the remaining drives.
Plus, supporters of the two-possession overtime forget what might go on in the final minutes of regulation. Enough possessions exist in the final five minutes of games to give teams ample opportunity to earn the victory.
Let's look at the Bengals-Eagles game. After the Eagles tied the score with a 27-yard field goal with 5:18 left in regulation, the Bengals had three -- that's right, three -- possessions to try to win the game. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick managed three three-and-outs. Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb had two possessions and two three-and-outs (discounting a third "possession," a handoff at the Eagles' 33 on the last play of regulation).
Each team had three possessions in overtime and couldn't score. A two-possession change would only promote a more conservative offensive approach in the final two minutes of regulation and an even more conservative approach in overtime.
Overtime isn't broke, so don't fix it. The league will never use the playoffs' "sudden-death" version of overtime, in which play continues as long as needed to produce a decisive score, for regular-season games. There would be greater risk of injury if the possibility of multiple overtime periods in regular-season games were to exist. And if the league ever adopts a 17- or 18-game regular season, there would be even greater arguments against a minimum two-possession overtime.
The way pro football has evolved in the final five minutes of regulation is why no need exists for two-possession overtimes. No-huddle offenses give quarterbacks and coaches the tools to move the football up the field quickly to score in the final minutes. Field goal kickers are 85 percent accurate. If a quarterback, armed with timeouts, can't get three first downs and drive to an opponent's 35 to set up a field goal, find a new quarterback. Don't blame the overtime rule.
Maybe the concept of a coin flip to determine the overtime possession is the problem.
"Football games shouldn't be determined by a coin flip,'' people complain. Fine, arm wrestle. Have a match race. Do something macho to determine who gets the ball in overtime. Just don't change the current overtime rule. It generally prevents ties, and that's the most important thing.
Let's dive into the mailbag:
From the inbox
Q: I've been a Detroit Lions fan for all 21 years I've been on this Earth. I know it's unlikely they'll end up 0-16, but I can't help but hope for it. Maybe a first overall draft pick is what we need? The only thing I'm hoping is that they don't get rid of coach Rod Marinelli because he's the only bright spot other than Calvin Johnson. Is there hope for the future with this franchise?
Gary in Waxahachie, Texas
A: Major changes are coming, and sad to say, Marinelli will be among the changes. The news is that next year's draft is shaping up to be a good one, and the Lions will have an extra first-, third- and sixth-round pick thanks to trades. More juniors are expected to turn pro early, fearing a strict future rookie pool. Detroit's entire roster has to be redone, but the key is getting a quarterback. Although it's too early to make a judgment, I'd lean toward Matthew Stafford of Georgia if he turns pro early, but it would help the Lions if they can get him with their second first-round pick. That would take some of the pressure off him. Too much is expected of quarterbacks drafted among the top five picks. The Lions have hope if they can come up with the right coach and draft well. Two good drafts could be the cure-all.
Q: So many people are questioning whether the Giants will re-sign Brandon Jacobs or Derrick Ward. Personally, I do not understand how they can let Jacobs go. He is the monster that moves the pile. To me, Jacobs and CB Corey Webster must be the priorities. Can they use the franchise tag on Jacobs as leverage to get him to sign a long-term deal? I cannot imagine Jacobs wanting to play for a one-year deal.
Jason in Jackson, N.J.
A: I'm with you. Jacobs is most exciting big back I've seen since Jerome Bettis and Christian Okoye. Although there might be enough carries to keep the Giants' backs happy, there won't be enough money in the long run. It probably would help matters if the Giants could get away with a franchise tag and keep Jacobs on a season-by-season basis, but it would be better to sign him long-term. He's unique. He wears down defenses in the first half and opens things up for Ahmad Bradshaw in the second half. With a new stadium, the Giants can't afford to let core players leave. Jacobs and Webster clearly are core players.
Q: Just wondering about Donovan McNabb. Will he be traded after this year? It seems like he has been playing better than the past few seasons, but it's looking like the Eagles won't make the playoffs. Will Philadelphia switch to rebuilding mode and start the Kevin Kolb era?
Alvin in Los Angeles
A: If I were Jeff Lurie, I wouldn't think of trading McNabb. To me, it would be similar to the Brett Favre situation in Green Bay this past summer. Aaron Rodgers is more talented than Kolb and is doing a great job for the Packers. But check the standings. The Jets are 7-3 with Favre. The Packers are 5-5 with Rodgers. Trading McNabb would only make the Eagles worse on offense. In the next few weeks, a lot of people in Philly will call for changes at coach and quarterback. My solution is to come up with more creative plays near the goal line and trade for Anquan Boldin or Chad Johnson. By the way, coach Andy Reid has adjusted some play-calling in the red zone, and the touchdown ratio is improving inside the 20-yard line.
Q: With the Dolphins' having the easiest remaining schedule in the AFC East, can they make a playoff run? And what are their chances of playing in the 2010 Super Bowl, which will be held in Miami?
Tomas in Weston, Fla.
A: It all comes down to the Patriots-Dolphins game this weekend. If the Dolphins beat the Patriots and sweep the season series, they would have a chance to reach 10 wins. Ten wins should get them a wild-card berth. I think the Colts will make the playoffs with 10 wins. Four of Miami's final five games are on the road, and I don't think the Dolphins will beat the Bills in Toronto. They should be able to beat the Rams, 49ers and Chiefs. A win over the Patriots could have them at 10-5 heading into the season finale against the Jets. I'm not sure Chad Pennington can pull off a playoff victory. As for the 2010 Super Bowl, the only way the Dolphins make it is if heir apparent Chad Henne is the real deal at quarterback. I haven't seen enough of him to put him on that level.
Q: Being stationed over in Germany, I'm not able to see many Raiders games. Watching them on offense is embarrassing and makes me ashamed to call myself a fan. This problem is not going to be easy to fix. Do you think their current state of affairs is going to scare off some of their marquee players?
Dave in Ramstein, Germany
A: What will scare off marquee free agents is what they did to DeAngelo Hall. They traded him after eight games so they wouldn't have to pay him the remaining $64 million on his seven-year, $72 million deal. Top free agents will demand full guarantees, and the Raiders might not make those offers. They can't afford to lose CB Nnamdi Asomugha, so the $64 million should go to him. He's the best corner in the game. The guy has had only 10 passes thrown at him in 10 games. Unbelievable. After the season, I think they will cut a few veterans, but I'm not sure a plan is there to replace them. The future rides on one player, QB JaMarcus Russell. If Al Davis is right about him, the Raiders could improve in the next two years. If he's wrong, the Raiders will be stuck toward the bottom of the league for years.
Q: What do you think is the deepest position in the league? Most people would probably say running back, which likely is correct. But after that, what do you think about DT? The list of dominant or very good defensive tackles is long.
A: Actually, I'd consider defensive tackle one of the thinnest positions in the league. There aren't enough big guys to go around. The undersized lines in Denver, Indianapolis and Detroit can't stop the run because they aren't good enough at defensive tackle. There aren't enough good nose tackles to make 3-4 defenses work. In my opinion, the second-deepest position is linebacker, believe it or not. The past five drafts have produced several great weakside linebackers. The 3-4 teams seem to have a pretty group of outside linebackers. Teams are taking chances with college defensive ends, and they are making the conversion to being 3-4 linebackers.
Q: John, this year has been subpar for LaDainian Tomlinson, which begs the question: Who is the best running back in the NFL? Legitimate cases can be made for several players, such as Adrian Peterson, Brian Westbrook, Clinton Portis, and others. Who in your opinion is the best?
Josh in North Providence, R.I.
A: Josh, my vote goes to Peterson. He is physically dominating. Westbrook might be the most versatile back, but I wouldn't put him ahead of Tomlinson, who has been the league's best back until this season. Peterson is so unstoppable that he seems to point more toward 200 yards on a given Sunday than 100. Have you ever seen a back who makes an 100-yard day look so easy? Peterson gets my vote.
Q: John, why can't the Bears defend the pass? They've made four or five mediocre QBs look like Pro Bowlers. Everyone keeps blaming the scheme. Lovie Smith says it's execution. I personally believe it's the calls made by coordinator Bob Babich. This defense was a top-five unit under Ron Rivera. Your thoughts?
Matt in Chicago
A: It's not the scheme. It's personnel. Start with the pass rush. There isn't one. Have you noticed that they don't use the Cover 2 much anymore? They play a single safety back in order to get an extra body up front to provide pressure. They've gotten very little out of their ends. That has forced the corners to stay in their coverage longer, and that's where the disaster begins. Nathan Vasher is having a bad season. Charles Tillman is affected by his shoulder problems and is having a tough year. According to Stats Inc., Tillman has been burned for 55 completions for 538 yards. The whole pass defense is off. Opponents are completing 25 passes for 263 yards a game against the Bears. The Bears have only 17 sacks in 422 dropbacks. What is surprising is that Tommie Harris isn't getting much pressure from the inside. He has two sacks. The Bears have only five sacks from non-defensive linemen. During the offseason, the Bears have to look for a pass-rushing defensive end. It would also help to get a linebacker who can blitz. Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher are still Pro Bowl talents, but their game isn't blitzing. The Bears also should pick up a strongside linebacker who can get to the quarterback.
Q: Just wanted to say that the fans in Green Bay are not wondering whether trading Favre was the right move. Stop taking the easy way out and saying Favre is the reason the Packers have been mediocre. We're not losing because of quarterback play. Give it a rest.
Justin in Green Bay
A: Your plea is heard, but the comparisons and the talk about the results of this trade won't go away until Favre retires. As I've been writing since minicamp, I'm a big believer in Rodgers, and I'm sure most Packers fans are on board with the idea, too. Still, I would have stayed with Favre for one more year and tried to persuade him to make 2008 his final season in Green Bay. Sometimes, life isn't fair. You are 100 percent right to ask everyone to move on from the Favre trade, but unfortunately, that won't happen. That's why it put Rodgers in an unfair position. Unless he takes Green Bay to the NFC title game, he'll hear it from naysayers.
2dEric D. Williams
2dMel Kiper Jr.