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Wednesday, October 26, 2005
The "Playing Not To Lose" myth and "The Well-Executed Bad Play"
The “Playing Not To Lose” myth
I don't buy into the emphasis on the "playing not to lose," weak-kneed mentality that our coaches and players are accused of having. I don't think there is a mindset that says "play scared," or "take your foot off their throat," or "don't play aggressively" that seeps into the hearts and minds of the coaches and players, and then consumes and corrupts them, causing them to do terrible things like whiff tackles, blow assignments, lighten the pressure in the gameplan, or call a run play on 3rd and short. It just doesn't work like that. Instead, I think "playing not to lose" probably doesn't look much different than "playing very badly" or "making a coaching decision that just didn't work out."
When our team plays well, it looks like we're playing aggressively, that we're playing relentlessly, that we're playing with confidence and that we're "taking the bull by the horns." In other words, we're "playing to win." When we play poorly, though, it looks like we lack confidence, that we're hanging back, that we're cowering, that our coaches aren't adjusting or playing to our strengths or exploiting the opposing team's weaknesses. In actuality, though, what may be happening is that we’re simply playing bad football, getting beat by the other team, and making mistakes. Because that’s also what "playing not to lose" looks like.
It’s my contention that there is no need to place so much emphasis on uncovering the mentality behind what we see transpiring on the field. This game is more about Player A beating Player B, Player C making the key play that affects the outcome of the game, or Player D royally screwing up his assignment than it is about the thoughts or mindset of the coaches or players.
The Well-Executed Bad Play
Having said that, it’s difficult not to notice all the angst about the 3rd and 2 call that took place with a minute left in the game. Many here insist that that play call was a bad one, that it was an example of what the “playing not to lose” mentality looks like. Well, for the record, I didn’t like a running play in that situation either, as, even though we had passed the ball 8 times in the previous 9 plays, I thought we should have made it 9 out of 10. If it works, don’t fix it, I’d say.
I’d like to get a little philosophical, though, about whether or not the play itself was indeed a “bad” one. Specifically, I’d like to discuss if anyone here has ever witnessed a well-executed bad play.
Yes, a well-executed, bad play. Is there such an animal?
If a play is called, and it is executed correctly, should that necessarily mean that the play called was a good one? And if a play is called, and it is not executed properly (it doesn’t get the job done), does that necessarily mean the play called was a bad one? See, in my opinion, the play itself is, with rare exception, neutral. That's because a play is designed to do one thing: gain the necessary or hoped-for yardage. And, in my opinion, the called play stays neutral--neither good nor bad---both before and after we witness what happens on the play.
I think it's generally true that only when the execution doesn't happen do we say the play that was called "bad." It's only after the execution does happen that we say the play that was called was "good." I just don’t happen to think those qualifiers should necessarily be used in such an ad hoc fashion.
Put into the context of the notorious 3rd and 2 this past Sunday, had Wells not snapped it early, had Fisher ran behind the prescribed blocking the play called for, and had he gained 4 yards instead of -1, this entire discussion wouldn't exist. We'd all say that the play called was a good one. We wouldn’t even have remembered it. There would be no discussion about the coaches or players “playing not to lose.” And that is the difference that execution makes in framing our perceptions of what happens on the field.
And that’s also why “playing not to lose” is just another way of saying that our guys weren’t executing. The 3rd and 2 play wasn’t executed properly: bad snap, bad block, bad run. But just because it wasn’t executed doesn’t mean that it was a bad play.
To summarize, then, “playing not to lose” is more of a physicality (getting beat, making mistakes, etc.) than it is a mentality (playing it safe, playing the clock, etc.). The Vikings quite simply played better than we did in the 2nd half on Sunday. And that’s the main reason why we lost.