Football: In Defense Of New York Jets Gregg Williams
LOS ANGELES, December 7, 2020 — By now the entire football world and beyond saw the conclusion of the Las Vegas Raiders’ victory over the New York Jets. Trailing 28-24 with 13 seconds to play, the Raiders needed a miracle from the Jets 46-yard line. Rather than play a prevent defense, Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams sent an all-out blitz. Eight men rushed Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, leaving Raiders receiver Henry Ruggs facing single coverage.
Ruggs beat the defender and caught the touchdown bomb with five seconds left. The 31-28 victory improved the Raider’s record to 7-5, perhaps saving their season. The Jets fell to a miserable 0-12.
Williams was pilloried for his call by armchair quarterbacks on social media.
Jets head coach Adam Gase, who may soon be fired himself, fired Williams on Monday.
Social media is still lighting into Williams, who may now have more enemies than anyone not involved in politics. Williams has even been the subject of conspiracy theories.
We leatherheads are passionate about our football, but let us all take a deep breath and analyze the last play with cold unemotional eyes. As crazy as it sounds, Gregg Williams may have actually made the right call. Let us separate the nonsense from reality.
No, the Jets did not tank on purpose.
There is tanking in other professional sports, but not in football. The worst team in football does get to choose the first pick in the following year’s NFL Draft. By being the worst team in 2020, the Jets would have the inside track on Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. If the Jets win a game or two down the stretch, they risk another team getting Lawrence instead. Did Williams purposely call a bad defensive scheme on the final play so the Jets would lose?
This argument is more than insulting. It is contradicted by logical reasoning and evidence. Players and coaches are professionals. They want to win. Williams faced sanctions by the league in 2011 because he was accused of crossing the line. He was accused of doing whatever it took to win, even if it crossed ethical boundaries. The idea that the bloodthirsty competitor accused in Bountygate would purposely lose a game is insane. Williams wants to be an NFL head coach. Anybody credibly accused of tanking would destroy their future career prospects.
The evidence clearly rejects the tanking conspiracy.
With 1:37 to play, the Raiders faced 4th and 3 at the Jets 9 yard line. Williams sent heavy pressure. Carr threw incomplete. The Jets erupted in celebration. They thought the game was over. They hugged each other. The defense did its job. Williams did his job. It was not his fault that the inept Jets offense gave the Raiders the ball back one more time. The Jets badly wanted to win that game. These players have pride. They know that a 1-15 season fades with time but 0-16 is forever. The Jets will play like junkyard dogs to avoid permanent NFL infamy. They desperately want that win.
No, Williams did not make the dumbest call ever in the history of the NFL.
Darrell Bevell refused to hand the ball to Marshawn Lynch on the one-yard line, costing the Seattle Seahawks the Super Bowl. Bevell was their offensive coordinator, and this past Sunday he just won his first game as an NFL head coach. Joe Gibbs called a swing pass from inside his own 10-yard line in the Super Bowl. Jack Squirek intercepted Joe Theisman for a touchdown that officially turned that Super Bowl into a blowout.
Gibbs lost that game but won three other Super Bowls. Williams made a controversial decision with the game on the line in a regular-season game that did not have any playoff implications for his own team. From a significance standpoint, Williams’s call was far less than one percent as bad as Bevell’s call.
Was it really the wrong call?
This is highly debatable, so let us have that debate. The call obviously did not work. Williams’s gamble backfired and his team lost. A negative result does not automatically invalidate the process. Many of the greatest coaches of all time began their careers with miserable losing streaks.
The traditional call against the Hail Mary has risks of its own. By sending only three rushers, the quarterback has plenty of time to scramble, get their feet properly set, and put maximum effort into the throw. The receivers have plenty of time to get down the field. The offensive line is less likely to commit a holding penalty due to the relative lack of pressure.
Anyone who grew up watching Alcoa’s “fantastic finishes” knows that the Hail Mary can be caught.
Roger Staubach launched the original Hail Mary that sent his team to the Super Bowl. Aaron Rodgers has done it several times. Two weeks ago, Kyler Murray completed a Hail Mary into traffic that was caught in a thrilling 32-30 Arizona Cardinals victory over the Buffalo Bills.
Williams runs an aggressive defense because he understands that pressure disrupts timing. He sent pressure with 1:37 left and successfully stopped the Raiders for what even many Raider fans feared was the final nail in their coffin. Throughout his career, Williams has brought pressure in Hail Mary situations successfully.
If Carr had gotten belted or had his throw disrupted, Williams would have been praised.
Two things happened on the play, neither of which is the fault of Williams. The five members of the Raiders’ offensive line successfully blocked eight defenders rushing in. Center Rodney Hudson and guard Gabe Jackson are Pro Bowlers for a reason. The blocking on the final play was exceptional. The second key was Carr, himself a Pro Bowler. Carr stepped up in the pocket and evaded the rush. If he does not step forward, he gets crushed.
Carr made a great play before the ball was released. He made an even better throw under pressure. There is no defense for a perfect throw, and with the game on the line, Carr delivered a dime. One play earlier under similar pressure, Carr overthrew an open receiver. On the final play, Carr and his offensive line executed better than the eight-man rush. Players have to make plays.
When big gambles go wrong, it harms the entire coaching industry.
This is because most coaches coach scared.
Rather than try to win, they coach not to lose. Fear of being fired makes far too many coaches be risk-averse.
Adam Gase was risk-averse with the game on the line. He called conservative runs straight into the line, all but guaranteeing the Raiders would get the ball back (To be fair, running the ball is absolutely the right call when the other team is out of timeouts).
The best coaches have taken the biggest risks on the biggest stages.
Saints coach Sean Payton called a surprise onside kick to start the second half of the 2009 Super Bowl.
The Saints were losing, and the successful recovery gave them the momentum to defeat the Colts. Had the onside kick failed, Payton would have been pilloried. Ironically, his defensive coordinator in that game was Williams. Meanwhile, Payton learned from legendary Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells.
The lesson Parcells taught Payton was that to win, you have to have “big balls.” Parcells called a fake punt in the 1990 NFC Title Game that was decisive. The Giants defeated the supposedly invincible 49ers because Parcells took the biggest risk on the biggest stage and his players executed the play to perfection.
On a lesser level, Washington coach Ron Rivera earned the nickname “Riverboat Ron” by repeatedly gambling on 4th and 1 when his coaching manual said to punt.
1997 Super Bowl
The Broncos defeated the Packers in the 1997 Super Bowl because Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips went after quarterback Brett Favre. The Packers faced 4th and 6 from the Denver 32 and were headed for the tying touchdown with less than two minutes to play. It was not a Hail Mary situation, but the principle was the same. Rather than sit back, Phillips brought the house. Favre’s timing pattern was disrupted and his pass was knocked away incomplete. Phillips took a big risk and earned a Super Bowl ring.
In the 2001 playoffs, the Raiders were beating the Patriots 13-10 in a blinding snowstorm.
The Raiders got stopped on 3rd and 1 in New England territory. With less than three minutes to play, Jon Gruden chose to punt. That allowed the Patriots, with plenty of help from the officials, to drive in position for the tying field goal. If Gruden goes for it on 4th and 1 and successfully converts, the infamous “Tuck Rule” ceases to exist anywhere outside of yoga.
Rather than crucify Williams for taking a big risk that failed, give Williams credit for taking a big risk in a nation of America founded by the biggest risk-takers in world history. Williams took a bold, calculated gamble. To define his career by one play is unfair, especially when the play call itself can be justified.