Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Special Teams - Big Play Files - #5 McCann Fumble KR

Let's continue our series on the big special teams plays of the season. Already this month we have covered the following plays:

1. Week 2 - Dez Bryant's Punt Return vs Chicago

2. Week 4 - Tennessee's Marc Mariani Kickoff Return

3. Week 5 - Minnesota's Percy Harvin's TD Kickoff Return

4. Week 6 - Dez Bryant's TD Punt Return vs Giants

Well, here comes #5 in our series. And this one is only included because it did cause a Touchdown - whether it was a righteous TD or not is apparently beside the point.

To talk about this play requires some context. This game was clearly the low point of the 2010 season. It was also the final game of the Wade Phillips era. In fact, why this play actually happened could likely have been the last straw on his coaching regime - although the case likely did not need a final straw.

Here is what I wrote the next morning on what set up the play :

* That challenge situation in the first half was beyond amazing and borderline comical. They waste a timeout in the 1st Quarter when they do not have the proper personnel on the field. They use a 2nd timeout when Wade decides to challenge the Brandon Jackson TD from 2 yards out where it did not appear that Jackson made it into the endzone. But, winning the challenge might have set up 2nd and goal from 3-6 inches out. Then, the 3rd Timeout was used to stop the clock before the 2 minute warning with 2:13 to play. With no timeouts, there would be no ability to challenge a play for the next 13 seconds. Once the 2 minute warning hits, the officials take over the review procedures. But for those next 13 seconds, what could possibly go wrong? In perfect 2010 Dallas Cowboys fashion, the Cowboys are given the raw end of a ridiculous ruling on a kickoff fumble that was clearly not. But, how can the Cowboys challenge when they have no timeouts? They can't. A game that may have been very unlikely at 21-0, went to a game with absolutely no prayer at 28-0. Game. Set. and Match.

So, partly because the NFL's review system is far from perfect, the Cowboys are buried on a very absurd on-field ruling. Regardless, let's look at the play by first seeing who was where for the Cowboys on their Kickoff Return that night.

The spot occupied by #52 Leon Williams is interesting as the Kick Return team was given plenty of work that night in a 45-7 loss. The first kickoff, Sean Lissemore was playing next to 92-Josh Brent, but he suffered a high ankle sprain on one return and was lost for the season. Then, on the next kickoff, they tried rookie guard Phil Costa. But, by the time we were in the 2nd Quarter, Leon Williams was plugged in there and of course, Bryan McCann was deep because Akwasi Owusu-Ansah on injured reserve after AOA was hurt the week before. But, it was clear from the opening kickoff that McCann was far more explosive in his returns than Owusu-Ansah.

Here, you can see the play. I left the video long enough that you would hear the NBC commentators discuss the madness of not having challenges left as they acknowledge how absurd the call on the field is.

The play is a very average "return left" where the Cowboys attempt to make a lane for the return man. You may recall there was some public comment by Jerry Jones about Tashard Choice's special teams play:"Well, first of all, Tashard needs to be a better special teams player."

That quote popped in my head after I see Choice's block attempt on Jarrett Bush here. Bush danced around him with little effort and then was in on the tackle on McCann. Of course, he is given credit for stripping the ball out, but given McCann has both knees on the ground at the time of the fumble lessens the credit that should be given.

Nick Collins has the ball fall in his hands from the stripped fumble and basically walks into the endzone - partially because the Cowboys are all bewildered that the whistle has not been blown.

The blame for this play falls completely on Wade Phillips for recklessly losing all of their timeouts. However, rather than stomping on his coaching grave, we should point out that the odds of a blatantly obvious missed call in that 13 second window from 2:13 to the 2:00 when the booth takes over reviews is incredibly remote. However, given how momentum was going, it likely didn't surprise a single Cowboys fan who was still watching.

I also do wonder about the replay system. In college football, this is clearly not a play that would stand because they would get the call right with an official review. It seems on change-of-possession and scoring plays, perhaps the league should have a way to over-rule an obvious silly call by one of their officials regardless of whether or not the team in question wishes to use a challenge. This is certainly not an excuse for the Cowboys, but rather it shows a fault in the system. If this return happens one play after the 2:00 warning, the play never stands. But, with 2:04 left, the game was put to bed.

Next time, the punt return TD for McCann against the Detroit Lions.

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