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Xs and O's / LONNIE WHITE

Adjustments Are Half the Battle

September 14, 2003|LONNIE WHITE

Vastly underrated in NFL games are halftime adjustments.

Properly done, they can give a struggling team new life. Incorrectly done, they can cause a troubled team to lose even more confidence.

Most coaches approach the 12-minute break by turning locker rooms into classrooms, the players divided into offensive and defensive units.

Good coaching staffs are able to figure out what worked and what didn't with their game plan in the first half and make the necessary changes.

Not-so-good staffs try to do the same thing but instead of helping their players with an effective updated game plan, they either make too many changes or none at all.

In last week's 9-6 victory over Cleveland, Indianapolis Coach Tony Dungy helped his team with a few halftime changes that led to a strong second half by the Colts. After watching Cleveland quarterback Kelly Holcomb gain chunks of yardage with quick passes, Dungy knew the Colts had to adjust.

The first thing Dungy did was get his players to key on a couple of subtle points within the Brown offense to force Holcomb into short safe passes, instead of timing throws up the field. The Colts accomplished this by occasionally having defensive end Rahim Brock drop back into coverage, joining the linebackers in taking away slant lanes that had been open for Holcomb in the first half.

Dungy also threw off the Browns' timing by having his cornerbacks jam Cleveland receivers five yards off the line of scrimmage. Sometimes they were physical. Sometimes they drifted back into soft zone coverage.

The move forced Cleveland receivers to make quick decisions in running their routes and that seemed to confuse Holcomb.

In the first half, Holcomb threw for 104 yards, completing nine of 14 passes. In the second, although he completed 11 of 14 passes, most went to running backs and not receiver Dennis Northcutt, who caught only two passes for seven yards after having grabbed three for 50 in the first half. Thus, Holcomb passed for only 78 yards after halftime.

Momentum shifts are a key part of the game and the team that executes strategy the best is the one that usually has things going its way. That's what happened for Indianapolis, which managed to generate enough offense in the fourth quarter to pull out a season-opening victory.

Whereas Dungy made the necessary defensive moves, St. Louis Coach Mike Martz's inability to make halftime offensive adjustments probably cost the Rams in their 23-13 loss to the New York Giants.

As usual, Martz made an overconfident mistake by not running the ball enough with Marshall Faulk.

Martz, who calls every play from the sideline, tends to get caught up in his personally designed passing game and he did that again against the Giants.

With quarterback Kurt Warner having a subpar effort and Faulk accounting for only nine yards on the ground, the Rams trailed, 10-6, at halftime. But instead of getting his offense to concentrate more on opening holes for Faulk, Martz switched to more elaborate passing plays involving multiple shifts and fakes.

The game plan played right into the Giants' hands as they forced Warner into six fumbles and sacked him six times.

The Rams ended up calling 61 pass plays against the Giants and only 13 runs, including only three attempts in the second half. Of the 13 rushing plays, one resulted in no gain by Warner and two were by wide receiver Shaun McDonald.

Faulk, one of the most explosive and productive running backs in the league, finished with only nine carries for 28 yards, one an 18-yard romp in the third quarter.

Because they didn't have to worry about the Ram running game, the Giant defense was able to get constant pressure on Warner.

Martz should know by now that NFL coaches who don't make adjustments don't keep their jobs long. Just ask Dungy. He found that out in Tampa Bay.

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