We're doing a season-long NFL roundtable with our friends at Slate. Check back here each week as a rotating cast of football watchers discusses the weekend's key plays, coaching decisions, and traumatic brain injuries.
From: Drew Magary
To: Josh Levin, Barry Petchesky
I have a theory that people like calling for coaches' heads because they can picture themselves doing the job, just as it's easy for them to picture themselves as announcers or studio analysts. One of the main reasons people like it when we goof on Sports Illustrated's Peter King is because Peter is doing a job that many of us feel we could do and OUGHT to be doing.
Speaking of Peter, I have pick on him again for this sentence:
I think I have graduated from the Tony Dungy School of Never Kick to Devin Hester.
This is an annoying sentence, not only because King uses it to name-drop Tony Dungy for the zillionth time, but also because King had Vikings punter Chris Kluwe do a guest turn in his column just last year to explain why it's hard to avoid kicking to the other team's returner:
You have two seconds to catch the snap, take a proper line, position your drop, and then make the ball hit a precise spot 48 yards down the field. Quarterbacks practice like this throwing the ball into a trash can. You have to use your foot. Sound easy? According to many fans and pundits, yes. They would have you believe that punting the football out of bounds, while still maintaining a halfway decent average, is so easy that any one of them could do it given the opportunity.
Again, Kluwe wrote this right in King's freakin' column, and a year later King has forgotten about it entirely and is back to saying, "Hey, just kick it away from Devin Hester!"
Well, where are you supposed to kick it? On punts, you have to kick it out of bounds, which always carries the risk of surrendering good field position if the punt isn't angled jusssst so (and, as Kluwe noted, that's without even accounting for the wind). On kickoffs, you CAN'T kick it out of bounds, lest you incur a huge penalty. That leaves you with the dreaded squib kick, which again results in crummy field position and does nothing to prevent a team like the Bears from pitching the ball back to Hester so he can go do what Devin Hester does. (Against the Vikings on Sunday night, he scored on a career-best 98-yard kickoff return.)
That's part of what makes Hester such an incredible weapon. You CAN'T kick it away from him. There's no magical way to advance the kick 50 yards without it touching his hands. Either you roll the dice and you hope your men can, you know, COVER, or you consistently sacrifice large chunks of field position. Maybe it's worth it to let Hester have his one big return a game, instead of kicking a 30-yard punt out of bounds every time and giving up two dozen yards on every change of possession. All I know is, if you're one of those people saying, "Don't kick it to Devin Hester!" you haven't considered what that supposedly bulletproof formula actually entails.