Commentary

Deferring doesn't make sense

Jets, Dolphins hindered by coaches' preference to give opponents first dibs

Originally Published: January 26, 2011
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

My latest pet peeve is coaches who defer the opening kickoff after winning the coin toss.

Jets coach Rex Ryan and Dolphins coach Tony Sparano are the league's biggest proponents of the strategy. What I can't figure out is why. Ryan did it eight times during the regular season and he ended up with the second-lowest first-quarter scoring totals in football. He tried it in the AFC title game at Heinz Field, and Ben Roethlisberger took it right back at Ryan with a nine-minute drive that resulted in a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.

Sparano's slow starts in games almost cost him his job.

Ryan figures the Jets are playing to their strengths by having their defense on the field at the start of games. Every offensive coach the Jets face has a 15-play script of what he wants to do early. Why give him the chance to run it when you control the action at the beginning of the game by winning the toss?

I went through the entire season of coin tosses. Teams deferred kickoffs 74 times this season. In 50 of those games, the other team ended up getting points first. The NFL is an offensive league. Why not take the ball and try to score?

To me, the deferred kickoff is like the overuse of the two-point conversion. For years, many coaches tried it in the first half and failed. Some found the failed use of the two-point conversion took points off the board instead of balancing the score.

Now, more coaches are using it when they are supposed to -- when the game is in the fourth quarter and their team is trailing.

Deferring the kickoff in order to get the ball at the beginning of the second half is a failed strategy.

From the inbox

Q: Al Davis took credit for the Raiders' 2010 draft during the Hue Jackson press conference. Do you buy it?

Parker in Seattle

A: Davis gets blamed for the mistakes, so he has be credited for the successes. This was a great draft for the Raiders. Davis is always going to go for speed, so he must have been thinking about Jacoby Ford from the third round on down. That said, this could be a rough offseason for the Raiders. They have so many key free agents and there won't be enough money to keep them all. Without a first-round pick, the Raiders may be tempted to make reaches to find replacements. I keep saying this about the Raiders: They have the same decision-making system they did when Rich Gannon was the quarterback and Jon Gruden was the coach. They won back then. When they didn't have good quarterback play, the mistakes in the draft were more exposed. Jason Campbell might not be great at quarterback, but he did a lot of good things. It sure helped this season.

Q: What do you think about the Lions' possible postseason chances next year?

Ryan in Wyandotte, Mich.

A: I still believe they are two drafts away from the playoffs, but I thought the same of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers going into this season, and the Bucs won 10 games. The key to everything is what happens with Matthew Stafford. The Lions need 16 games from him. They still need two starting linebackers and three starters in the secondary. But if Stafford has a big year, they have a chance.

Q: I do not understand the decision to bring Marvin Lewis back to Cincinnati. Although he brought the Bengals out of years of darkness, the team still has not produced at a consistent level. Is there any chance the Bengals can make the playoffs and become a Super Bowl contender with Lewis and the present coaching staff at the helm?

Eric in Chicago

A: From everything I heard, Lewis had to take a slight paycut to return, but Bengals ownership knows changing coaches doesn't necessarily guarantee success. Owner Mike Brown likes the way the defensive talent has been built over the past couple of seasons under Lewis and coordinator Mike Zimmer. Had Brown made a change, he probably would have gone to Zimmer. Would that have changed things in Cincinnati? Probably not. What needs to be fixed is the scouting department. It needs to be bigger. The Bengals also have to stop taking chances on players with character flaws and attitude issues. They aren't at the stage where they can start thinking Super Bowl. They need to find ways to consistently stay ahead of the Steelers and Ravens.

Q: A few weeks ago you wrote an article ranking the league's QBs in different classes, with "elite" being the highest class. You ranked 12 QBs in the elite class, 37.5 percent of the number of teams in the league. According to Merriam-Webster's online edition, elite is defined as "top of the class." I don't know what school you attended, but being better than 62.5 percent of your classmates does not get you honored as "top of the class." I'd say being in the top 5 or 10 percent would get you elite status. That means two to three QBs. Maybe next time you should just go with The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, or something clever and correct.

Bryan in Mt. Airy, Md.

A: If an elite quarterback is an A student, then why can't you have 12 A students in a class? Twelve teams make the playoffs. Normally, 10 of those teams have A students at QB and I'm trying to identify the A students. Those teams with the C students are the ones drafting in the top 10 of most drafts.

Q: As a big Packers fan, I'm very excited about the way the defense has played this year. With that being said, what are the chances Dom Capers will be the defensive coordinator in Green Bay next season? Being selfish, I hope he stays here, but he has done a marvelous job these past two years and has previous head-coaching experience. What job do you think Capers will have next season?

Brock in Germantown, Wis.

A: Very few coaches get three chances to be a head coach. (Capers was a head coach in Carolina and Houston.) He's also 60 years old. It wouldn't surprise me if he stays in Green Bay for several years. I think he likes the players. He's also probably tired of moving around. Thanks to the Green Bay experience, Capers has rejuvenated a great coaching career. The Packers and Mike McCarthy are in a good position with him.

Q: Do you think that Vince Young would be a good fit in Buffalo? If so, could you see Ralph Wilson trying to acquire him?

Daniel Evansville, Ind.

A: Chan Gailey's scheme could work with Young, but I don't think the Bills will try to acquire him. If they are going for a quarterback who can run, they'd be better served to draft Cam Newton. I believe the plan is to go with Ryan Fitzpatrick, who would put more points on the scoreboard than Young. Still, the fate of this franchise will be determined by the next quarterback it drafts. If the Fitzpatrick move doesn't work out, the Bills probably will be in position to draft Stanford's Andrew Luck in 2012

Q: With the addition of Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator, does that mean the Cowboys will lean toward drafting a defensive back instead of addressing the O-line?

Dion in Oshkosh, Wis.

A: Offensive line is an urgent need. They've neglected the line for too long, Even though it's not sexy to draft offensive linemen, the Cowboys got themselves in trouble by not drafting offensive linemen successfully the past several years. Getting a first-round cornerback would be a nice luxury, but they are desperate for help along the line. The defensive line is the next priority.

Q: In regards to the CBA, I think I have a temporary fix to the problem. Since the players and owners can't agree on a solution at the moment, why don't they extend the current CBA for one more year until they agree on a new one? That way both sides have an extra year to negotiate a new deal, the fans will still have football, and the league won't be losing out on millions upon billions of dollars in revenue. What are your thoughts on the idea?

Joe in Scranton, Pa.

A: Not happening. The owners felt it was necessary to draw a line in the sand and either come up with something better or go into lockout mode. They have reached the stage where rising overall costs are exceeding increased revenues. Let's just hope owners are willing to make some concessions in order to get this deal done.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer