Commentary

Trash talk is just that -- talk

Players are focused on assignments, not who said what about whom

Originally Published: January 18, 2011
By Ross Tucker | ESPN.com

JetsGreg M. Cooper/US PresswireThe Jets' sideline got to celebrate on Sunday. Did a week of trading barbs really have anything to do with that?
It means nothing. That's the conclusion I have reached regarding trash talking in general and the mouthy New York Jets in particular.

I always felt that way as a player and feel even more strongly about it now. Not many fans or members of the media seem to grasp this. They are constantly analyzing the barbs thrown back and forth, wondering what impact they will have on the game and the strategy behind those comments. How about "none" and "there probably isn't any"?

A lot of people criticize the Jets for providing their opposition bulletin-board material during the week and helping to further motivate them. How's that working out? The tough-talking Jets are in the AFC Championship Game for the second straight year, so either their opponents have become immune to the chatter because the Jets do it so often or the Jets are so good that they are able to overcome the hypermotivated teams they face week in and week out.

It also has been theorized that everything Rex Ryan, the Jets' head coach and biggest talker, says during the week is by design. Some believe that he says the things he says -- for instance, that this past weekend's game against the Patriots was about him and Patriots coach Bill Belichick -- to take the pressure off his players.

That's probably the dumbest thing I've ever heard. How does that take any pressure off his players? I can't imagine that if I were a Jets offensive lineman getting ready to play the Pats I'd be thinking, "Man, I was really worried about having to block Vince Wilfork, but now that Rex said it is just between him and Belichick, I feel so much better." Please.

Brandon Moore, the Jets' underrated right guard, told me, "Rex sets the tone for the week for the fans, media and for us with what he says."

That's great, Brandon, but what about the whole pressure thing?

"No, it doesn't take the pressure off."

Didn't think so.

If anything, Ryan's words during the week leading up to big games like the AFC championship on Sunday against Pittsburgh may bestow confidence in his players. Or maybe they just endear him even more to his charges so that they go out and play harder for him. Those are two plausible theories, but I don't think the talk has much of an impact in that way, either.

You want to know the truth? Nothing said by a coach on Monday or a defensive back on Tuesday or the opposing team's wide receiver on Thursday really means anything to the 22 men inside the white lines once the game actually starts.

Instead, it is the topic of the week mainly because it is low-hanging fruit for the print media and easy fodder for the sports talk radio crowd, of which I am a part.

In reality, none of the participants will give it one iota of thought when the critical play in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game takes place.

From the inbox

Q: This question has been bugging me for a long time, which I hope you will be able to answer. When the ball is kicked out of bounds during punting and kickoffs, how does the head linesman (or line judge) determine where the ball crossed the sideline? The only way that anyone can accurately determine the ball crossing the sideline (two lines of intersection) would be if they view the action from the air.

Raja in Morrisville, N.C.

A: Some of the stuff that "has been bugging" some of you for a long time is crazy to me. The answer is that it is a judgment call, just like spotting the football and pass interference. I know we want to try to make the game an exact science, but there will always be some type of human involvement.

Q: I'm writing to ask for a rules clarification: Why is it that offensive linemen can stand up, kneel or otherwise move about when the QB is calling an audible, but even the slightest flinch is a false start otherwise? What makes one OK and the other not?

Pete in San Francisco

A: Good question. Because when you play Pop Warner ball, they tell you that once you get in your stance, you can't move at all. In the NFL, offensive linemen are basically allowed to move their heads or hands or whatever as long as that movement does not simulate the start of a play. Even if it is just a flinch, it is a penalty if it appears as though the offensive lineman is trying to start the play.

Q: A few Bears players commented after the Week 17 loss to the Packers that offensively they basically had the same game plan as their first meeting and specifically they didn't change any of their hot reads. How big of an impact do you think that will have, and are hot reads changed that often? Especially since you always hear how divisional opponents already know what the other team does.

Rocky in Placerville, Calif.

A: I heard that the Bears didn't really alter their plan for the Packers in Week 17 and went with more of their basic stuff, which makes their hard-fought loss in a game that had no impact on their playoff positioning even more impressive. In particular, if an opponent knows exactly what all your "hot reads" or "sight adjusts" are, it is much easier for it to design blitzes and coverages in which it can get to the quarterback and still take away the receiver he is supposed to dump the ball off to.

Q: With Mark Sanchez's success in the playoffs, will he now get respect? If not, then with the lack of Dan Marino's success in the playoffs, is it time to take away the win-loss record away from QBs' names, like all the other players?

Will in Shreveport, La.

A: I'll always maintain that win-loss record is the most important stat for anyone because it is the common goal for which everyone strives, but I absolutely agree that quarterbacks are judged way too much on how many championships or playoff games they have won. What Sanchez has done the past two postseasons is very impressive, but does anyone out there really think he is better than Philip Rivers? The answer is no, because he isn't, and it really is not even close.

Q: My question is about players choosing whether or not to wear sleeves, hand warmers, etc. during cold-weather games. During the games this past weekend, some guys had a ton of protective gear while others were only wearing their normal uniform. What factors go into the decision about how much extra padding to wear? Do coaches ever tell players to bundle up, or is it a totally personal decision?

Andrew in Millington, N.J.

A: Entirely a personal decision, and I've never heard any coaches make a recommendation one way or the other except for discouraging running backs from wearing sleeves because of fumbling concerns. Other than that, it is every man for himself.

Q: I thought Nick Fairley really cemented himself as a dominant player with his performance in the BCS game, but I also noticed the "dirty" play (twisting LaMichael James' helmet after the play) and his reputation for being a dirty player, so are those major red flags against his character? Or does that stuff get policed better in the NFL by both players and refs?

Mike in Tempe, Ariz.

A: That reputation probably will help Fairley's draft stock more than hurt it. None of the teams will come out and say that publicly because it is not politically correct, but deep down teams like knowing that he has that in him. At defensive line, a position requiring much effort, they would much rather teach him how to calm down or control his emotions than how to get going or increase his intensity.

Ross Tucker, who played on the offensive line for five teams in his seven-year NFL career, writes regularly for ESPN.com.

Ross Tucker, who played on the offensive line for five teams during his seven-year NFL career, writes regularly for ESPN.com. Tucker, who also hosts ESPN.com's Football Today podcast, graduated from Princeton.