Bad break when a coach goes down

It is not often that you read about a non-player being hurt during a game, but oddly enough, that’s exactly what happened on Sunday … twice!

The New Orleans Saints traveled to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and it was sure to be a physical match-up, but who would have guessed that we would see two coaches go down with knee injuries during the game?

Buccaneers defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake was celebrating one of his team’s three interceptions when he tore his patellar tendon. After the game, it was reported that he was in good spirits and planned to have surgery after next week’s game against the Chicago Bears in London. While that injury is nothing to shake your head at, it barely has been mentioned because it was the less significant coaching injury of the same game!

It still sounds odd to even say it, but earlier in the game Jimmy Graham rolled into head coach Sean Payton after completing a catch down the sideline. Just like it does when a defender rolls into the quarterback in the pocket, Payton’s foot stuck in the ground and his knee and leg bent backward.

He toughed it out for most of the first half, calling the rest of the offensive plays from the sideline bench, but was taken into the locker room with about three minutes to go to determine the significance of the injury. That is when he found out he not only tore his MCL, but also fractured his tibia. Due to the severity of the injury, Payton remained in the locker room for the second half of the game and was unable to continue his play-calling duties.

This begs the question, what does a team do when your head coach and/or primary offensive play-caller is taken out of the game?

The first question is who would be missed the most. Frankly, it would probably be the play-caller. Certainly the decisions made by a head coach are important, but typically there is someone on the staff who has either had previous head coaching experience or has senior enough status to take over those responsibilities. In this case, the Saints were well-equipped with Joe Vitt, a long-time, well-respected coach in the NFL.

The harder job is replacing the play-caller. Certainly the entire offensive staff lays out the game plan during the week and everyone has a copy of the infamous oversized play-calling sheet. With the intense preparation of the game plan and play installation throughout the week, everyone on the offensive staff knows the playbook and would be able to call out plays by Sunday.

But that would be all they are doing, just calling plays.

Play-calling is part mechanics, part intuition and part instinct. As a play-caller, you have spent the entire week running through your mind the limitless scenarios of the game and what you would call for any given situation. Envisioning different sequences and outcomes that lead to the flow of one call to the next.

That is the difference in calling plays and calling a game. One is a simple processing of information, while the other is a chess match that is rehearsed and replayed in your mind thousands of time during the week.

Even if you have a member of your staff that thinks of himself as a future play-caller and practices during the week the game he might call, I doubt that it is in the detail and to the degree needed to actually call a game. That would be like suggesting Vincent Van Gogh’s apprentice could take over his style of artwork, just because he studied under him.

Interestingly enough, when Jimmy Lake sustained his injury, he retreated to the safety of the coaches’ booth and 15-year veteran Ronde Barber coached up the defensive backs in his stead.

Quick Hits

* Give the 49ers all the credit in the world. They took on Detroit at a loud Ford Field and faced adversity early after a strip-sack that led to an early 10-point deficit. They stuck to the game plan and calmly crawled back into the game.

* I loved that the Detroit Lions were keeping tally on the Jumbotron how many false starts the 49ers had accumulated. What an excellent way to give appreciation to your fans and keep them loud and energized throughout the game.

* Aaron Rodgers isn’t Michael Vick, but he uses his legs just as effectively … if not more. He has incredible elusiveness in the pocket and spun and ducked his way out of one sack and fired a rifle 15 yards downfield to keep a drive alive against St. Louis. That was impressive.

* With all the explosive receivers that Rodgers has at his disposal, it always seems that Jordy Nelson shows up the biggest. Yes, Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley are his “go-to” receivers, but when they need an explosive play to shift the momentum, Jordy Nelson is their guy.

* The Eagles ended their four-game losing streak with an impressive showing against the Redskins on Sunday, but if they want to win consistently, they will need to convert more opportunities in the red zone rather than settle for field goals.

* Interesting how one game can change the outlook of an entire season. The Redskins went into the weekend atop the division, and they leave completely demoralized and in the thick of a quarterback controversy. Like they say, if you have two quarterbacks, you really don’t have one.

* I love the big-play ability of the Buffalo Bills, but if they truly want to compete in the AFC East, they need to start playing better defense. They can’t afford for their offense to have to come up with touchdowns of 80 and 60 yards respectively to stay in games. Eventually that wears outs.

* Andy Dalton is quietly having an excellent rookie campaign. I will be the first to admit that I thought it was a shame to draft him in the first round, but he is proving me wrong. He has taken over for Carson Palmer, and found great chemistry with A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham. This is a young offense that will only get better.

* If I was going to tell you that a New York Giants running back would have three one-yard touchdowns in a game, you would have told me it was Brandon Jacobs. Wrong. With Jacobs nursing an injury, Ahmad Bradshaw was the Giants’ goal-line offense on Sunday.

* Losing Jason Campbell for the year is devastating for the Raiders. This was an offense that was finally benefiting from explosive passing plays, and not just leaning on Darren McFadden to be their entire offense.

* Why are teams still kicking to Devin Hester?

* I really liked the improvement of the Chicago offensive line last night. Jay Cutler showed just how dangerous he can be when given time in the pocket. The Bears only surrendered one sack against the Vikings over 31 passing attempts.