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Playing like cowards

When athletes lose to inferior opponents, the excuses quickly follow. That’s a pretty good rule of thumb, and it applies to women’s soccer, too. Here’s what Hope Solo said after the U.S. lost to Sweden in the Olympics:

“I thought that we played a courageous game,” Solo said. “I thought that we had many opportunities on goal. I think we showed a lot of heart. We came back from a goal down; I’m very proud of this team.

“I also think we played a bunch of cowards. But, you know, the best team did not win today; I strongly, firmly believe that. I think you saw America’s heart. You saw us give everything that we had today. Unfortunately the better team didn’t win.”

The U.S. outshot Sweden 27-2, but the game ended 1-1 after 120 minutes plus stoppage time. The unique thing about soccer is that its tiebreaker is a shootout, which is kind of like playing an NFL game and then having a field goal kicking contest. In other words, once you go to a shootout, the better team suddenly doesn’t have much (any?) of an edge.

Asked to elaborate on what she meant by cowards, Solo referenced Pia Sundhage, the Swedish coach who formerly coached the United States and won two Olympic gold medals.

“Sweden dropped off, didn’t want to open play,” Solo said. “They didn’t want to pass the ball around. They didn’t want to play great soccer, entertaining soccer. It was a combative game, a physical game. Exactly what they wanted and exactly what their game plan was. They dropped into a 50. They didn’t try and press, they didn’t want to open the game and they tried to counter with long balls. We had that style of play when Pia was our coach.

“I don’t think they’re going to make it far in the tournament. I think it was very cowardly. But they won. They’re moving on, and we’re going home.”

Solo’s comments were not deferential or classy or imbued with a whiff of sportsmanship, which is what we expect athlete’s comments to be. More importantly, they were wrong: Sweden beat host Brazil (after losing 5-1 to Brazil in the group state) 0-0 in the semifinal, thanks to a 4-3 win in the penalty kick shootout. Sweden plays in the gold medal match today. Sweden again used its annoying style of play, and this frustrating output led to Brazil outshooting Sweden 28-3.

Anyway, this got me thinking about the NFL. Is there a cowardly way of playing that could draw similar criticism? This is a separate (but perhaps related) concept from the typical David strategies we talk about when we discuss how underdogs can beat favorites. My first two thoughts were (1) Super Bowl XXV, even though the general understanding of why the Giants beat the Bills is incorrect, and (2) Greasy Neale’s comments after losing to the Browns in 1950. Cleveland used a high-flying passing game that Neale referred to as ‘basketball on cleats’, comments that sound like something coaches would say about Oregon football about five years ago. Cleveland just didn’t win the right way.

Of course, passing the ball a ton isn’t the only way to “win the wrong way”: don’t forget that the run and defense strategy can draw criticism, too:

Everyone keeps talking about our game with Miami [in the 1993 Sugar Bowl]. The reason we won against Miami is this: We had the ball 15 minutes more than they did. We ran the ball for 275 yards against Miami. They ran the ball for less than 50 yards. When the game was over, we won. After a game, it may not look good. The alumni may be asking why we are not entertaining them. Let me assure you that our job is to win football games. You win football games by running the ball, stopping the run and being on the plus side of giveaway-takeaways.

So I’ll open this up to the crowd: is there a cowardly way to win football games?

  • Joe Wright

    The first thing that comes to mind is George Atkinson clotheslining Lynn Swann from behind away from the ball in the ’75-’76 AFC title game. But I don’t think that’s what you’re getting at.

    Punting out of bounds away from a great returner?

  • Bill Walsh and the West Coast (Ohio River) Offense comes to mind first. Also the Wyche Bengals and K-Gun Bills. I’ve heard many complain about New England’s death by 1,000 papercuts style, even though it has obviously been super effective. The fast-paced spread offenses that seem to piss off Nick Saban may apply, but I don’t pay nearly enough attention to college football to have a meaningful opinion on that.

    Basically it seems like anyone who wins unconventionally is criticized. That’s fine. I’ll take the criticism and the W.

    To your actual question: there is a cowardly to play football games, but I don’t think there’s a cowardly way to win football games (within the confines of the rules, that is).

    • Adam

      Do people really think the WCO / Patriots offense is cowardly or cheap? I find New England’s offense aesthetically off-putting, but it’s well within the rules, so more power to ’em.

      • I’ve never heard other teams talk about New England’s offense in that way, but I have heard fans and analysts do it. I think there was some general disdain for the WCO, especially from inferior coaches like Parcells and Ditka. They used “finesse” rather than cowardly, but it meant about the same thing. They called Wyche’s offense “popcorn football,” whatever the heck that means.

        • Adam

          I’m guessing “popcorn football” is a pejorative term for entertaining but sissy football. As Terrell Owens would say, “Get your popcorn ready!”

      • Tom

        I know we’ve (readers here) discussed this before, but what I think is most frustrating, with the Pats anyway, is that what they do – the short pass thing – looks so easy, that it feels like they’re cheating (no I’m not talking about the deflated balls and videotaping, etc.). It’s like when you find a workaround in a video game and you’re unbeatable. You’re not cheating, but somehow you’re not playing in the spirit of the game. Like, OK, yeah, you can throw all those quick outs, but c’mon, let’s play REAL football!

        • This seems to be a large part of why people, especially those who comment here, often devalue Brady’s accomplishments. I’ve seen countless persons say he could never make the hard throws that Peyton/Favre/Rodgers/whoever can make. And I say to myself, “if it’s so easy, why is he the only one who has found consistent success doing it?” It’s clear that, although Brady may not have prototype arm talent, he has preternatural cognitive abilities that allow him to seemingly run a maxmin calculation and act on it in a split second – and usually correctly.

          • Tom

            Agreed. I’ve said it before in other FP posts, why can’t other teams do what the Pats do? There’s plenty of film available on what they do, so what the heck? Maybe it’s Brady…

          • Adam

            I agree that Brady has one of the sharpest minds in NFL history, and can recognize things on the field before they even happen. However, as one of the people here who tends to devalue Brady’s accomplishments, I question how much of the Pats offensive success is Brady, and how much is Belichick? As odd is this may sound, I think Brady is the hardest QB to evaluate in the modern era. He’s played his entire 17 year career (and counting) on one team, under one head coach, one GM, and one owner. No other QB in history has had that many consecutive seasons of organizational continuity. From a Bayesian perspective, it’s impossible to accurately separate Brady from his surroundings, because his surroundings haven’t changed.

            Here’s an analogy: Car Salesman A has sold 15 cars per month for 20 straight years, and he’s spent all 20 of those years at one dealership selling one brand of car. Salesman B has averaged 13 cars per month over his 20 year career, but he’s worked at five different dealerships all over the country, and sold every make of vehicle.

            Even though Salesman B has slightly lower production than Salesman A, he’s maintained his production under a litany of different circumstances; we can say with confidence that he is the driving force behind his sales numbers. Salesman A has better numbers, but his circumstances have never changed, so how do we know it’s him and not the dealership? Maybe his dealership in is an ideal location and has a local monopoly selling a certain make of car. Maybe his dealership offers customer perks like free oil changes that have nothing to do with the sales staff. Tom Brady is Salesman A.

            • Tom

              I agree with the situation you’ve laid out. To possibly get closer to the truth, I suppose we could look at other long-term coach/QB pairings and see what we get…but there just isn’t an answer to this. Brady is great, and part of it is him, and part of it is his situation, and we all just have to decide for ourselves which part we think has more impact (how’s that for fence-sitting?)

              • Adam

                I’m sitting right next to you on that fence. Since I have no idea, I simply give Brady 50% credit and Belichick the other 50%. Depending on where the truth really lies (and we’ll never know), Brady could be the GOAT or the 20th best QB of all time.

            • I think it’s more complicated than that. It would be like your scenario, but if the car salesmen also needed people putting up the right signs, making the right advertisements, funneling potential customers to them, keeping the place looking clean and appealing, etc.

              Post 2007, Brady has had all of that, even if he has had three different guys calling plays. But prior to that, his coworkers on offense were pretty pedestrian. Five of the six times in his career his leading receiver had <1000 yards came before 2007 (the other was 2010 when Brady only threw 492 passes).

              While his offense has technically always been the Erhardt-Perkins, to say that his scheme has been consistent over his career would be wrong. The great advantage of the EP is that it is more of a philosophy than a scheme, so you can always adjust depending on personnel. Brady has gone from throwing to a bunch of unheralded WRs and running backs to having Moss/Welker, to having Gronk/Hernandez, to having a bunch of vanilla midgets, and he's been successful no matter what. It's telling, to me, that when he was injured in 2008, Matt Cassel came in and produced at roughly the same level (while throwing to Moss and Welker) as Brady did in 2006 (while throwing to Caldwell and Brown).

              Using the eye test (which changes depending on whose eyes are doing the testing), Brady never looks scary or impressive in the way that Aaron Rodgers does. He can't consistently hit the deep throws, and he isn't lighting up intermediate routes either. But his cognitive ability is always a delight for me to watch. He isn't going to make the big highlight reel play, but he will make 7 or 8 successful plays on a drive based entirely on his big fat brain.

              When you ran the WOC for QBs, I put Brady at number three on my list. I don't know if I'd put him in the same place if I had to make the list again today, but I'm sure I wouldn't put him any worse than fifth.


              • Adam

                I agree with most of your points, but there’s still much more to consider. When I talk about the “system” in the context of the Patriots, I’m referring to the entire team from top to bottom, not just the offense. Bill Belichick is a master at exploiting market inefficiencies by finding cheap players who fit perfectly within his schemes. Players like the vanilla midgets (LOL) may not be highly touted prospects, but they are exactly who Belichick needs to properly execute his game plans. The Patriots have been able to piece together good or even great offensive lines from low draft picks and forgotten free agents. New England’s roster is always better in real life than it is on paper.

                Brady has benefited in subtle ways from Belichick’s superior roster construction, including `01-`06 when he allegedly had a poor supporting cast. His receiving targets during those years were indeed sub-par; I don’t think anyone can dispute that. However, the defense and special teams were great, and clearly made Brady’s job easier. From 2001-2006, New England ranked 3rd in the league in points allowed and 3rd in takeaways. According to DVOA, the Pats also had elite special teams during that era. Brady enjoyed the luxury of starting his drives on short fields, and played without the pressure of matching his opponents’ scores. His offensive lines were rock solid, so he didn’t have to make many throws under pressure. When the offense struggled, the rest of the team picked them up. If we consider the entire team, and not just the receivers, Brady had an above average supporting cast from 2001-2006.

                Since 2007, Brady has played with two all-time great receiving targets (Moss/Gronk) AND benefited from defensive and special teams support similar to what he had in the early years. From 2007-2015, New England ranked 3rd in points allowed, 2nd in takeaways, and top 10 special teams (by DVOA) almost every season. So…elite receivers, major field position advantage, benefit of playing from ahead, and mostly good offensive lines. In the second half of his career, Brady has had dominant supporting casts. Over his entire career, he has suffered with poor receivers for six years and shaky offensive lines for two or three years. Other than those relatively small blemishes, Brady has been blessed with great support in all three phases of the game for the majority of his career. How many QB’s in history have had such a luxury? I think Brady was extremely lucky to have been drafted by exactly the right team; had he been drafted by anyone else I don’t think he experiences nearly the same level of success.

                • I don’t think it’s very uncommon at all for quarterbacks of dynasties to have a ton of support on both sides of the ball. Otto Graham had arguably the greatest supporting cast and head coach of any QB ever to play. Bart Starr had a team riddled with Hall of Famers, and Johnny Unitas had HOF guys in some pretty key positions (plus Ameche, who was no slouch). Len Dawson had the most stacked team in the AFL. Roger Staubach and Terry Bradshaw both had loaded teams. Joe Montana, Steve Young, and Troy Aikman were surrounded by great players and played under good or great coaches. Heck, Peyton Manning had an incredible supporting cast for most of his career (could potentially see two WRs, a HB, and a C in Canton just from his Indy offenses).

                  With the exception of Young and Manning, all these guys won multiple titles under a legendary HOF coach, surrounded by talented teammates, for respected organizations lauded for their ownership and stability (or Jerry Jones’s wallet).

                  In terms of being lucky to have gone to the right team, I’d say that any QB I just mentioned fits the same bill. I don’t think he would’ve thrived in a Coryell type offense, but I also don’t think a Coryell style coach would have wanted to draft him anyway. I think that his brain and psychological resilience would’ve been enough to get him to the top of a depth chart for any team willing to start such a low pick (Holmgren, for example, had some success with a late round pick). I think he’d basically be a much better version of Chad Pennington, who himself did pretty well in situations that weren’t exactly conducive to QB success.

                  • sacramento gold miners

                    I see the QB/Head Coach/Team as more of a symbiotic relationship, many teams have been talented, but failed to achieve the ultimate goal. The Patriots, like other very successful franchises, have a great fit in Brady and Belichick.Terry Bradshaw and Chuck Noll were like oil and water early on, but as Bradshaw matured, Noll backed off, and the results spoke for themselves.

                    A strong supporting cast will only get you so far, and if Vinny Testaverde or Drew Bledsoe were quarterbacking the Patriots instead of Brady, New England doesn’t win four Super Bowls. Tony Romo on the 1975 Cowboys wouldn’t have delivered the Hail Mary to upset Minnesota in the playoffs. Conversely, Big Ben significantly improves the 1995 Steelers chances in Super Bowl 30 against Dallas, and Eli Manning wouldn’t have been the disaster Kerry Collins was against the Ravens,

                    • Adam

                      I agree that a coach and QB have a symbiotic relationship. Ideally, they elevate each other to heights neither could achieve on their own. Brady and Belichick are a perfect example of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.

                      How do you know Tony Romo wouldn’t have delivered the Hail Mary for the ’75 Cowboys? That’s an awfully specific projection.

                    • sacramento gold miners

                      Tony Romo has never won a road playoff game in his whole career. I haven’t done the research, but tend to think most great QBs have multiple road playoff wins since the merger.

                    • Is a quarterback great because he has multiple road playoff wins, or does he have multiple road playoff wins because he’s great?

                    • sacramento gold miners

                      We’ll need someone to do a post-merger article on road playoff wins, but feel confident in saying most HOF QBs since that time will have multiple RPWs. Of course, there will always be exceptions, like the journeyman Mark Sanchez. If Sanchez had gone on to build on that early postseason success, we may be having a different conversation. For whatever reason, postseason greatness has eluded Carson Palmer and Tony Romo(who was injured again tonight).

                    • Adam

                      So Mark Sanchez has the ability to win a playoff game on a Hail Mary, but Tony Romo doesn’t?

                    • I think the idea of symbiosis goes both ways. Rex Ryan is not a good developer of QBs. Mark Sanchez is not a good QB. Put them together, and they both make each other look worse. You can say the opposite for Brown/Graham, Lombardi/Starr, Walsh/Montana, Belichick/Brady. I doubt the QBs or coaches in those pairings look quite as good with an average coach/player replacing theirs. At the same time, though, I doubt even Peyton Manning does as well if he ends up going to a team with an authoritarian coach who isn’t open to letting Manning have so much control over the offense.

                    • Richie

                      For Belichick it sucks because we even have a little bit of a sample of him in Cleveland to help untangle things. But the results are unclear.

                      Testaverde became a slightly better QB with Belichick. But the improvement is very small and could just be due to better teammates than he had in Tampa Bay. And then Testaverde went on to have his best seasons in Baltimore and New York after splitting from Belichick.

                    • I think it is also possible that Belichick just became a better coach with the Patriots than he was with the Browns.

                    • Richie

                      Agreed. I meant to mention that. I think the Browns were actually better than their W-L records were showing, and then things collapsed in their final year in Cleveland with the move looming.

                      So Belichick probably did a better overall job in Cleveland than is usually considered. But I think it’s also possible that he learned some things from his first HC experience and may have been a better coach the second time around.

                      Or, it could just be that he had Tom Brady the second time around and it’s a lot easier to look like a genius if you have possibly the best QB of all time.

                    • I feel similarly about Pete Carroll’s time in New England. The way people talk about it, you’d think he was Rich Kotite or something.

                      I don’t know a ton about the front office situation in Cleveland during Belichick’s time, but I imagine it wasn’t quite as nice as working for Robert Kraft. Having buy-in at the highest level is a huge advantage, and it is something that coaches in unstable organizations don’t benefit from at all. Belichick has the ideal coaching scenario – working for Kraft and over Brady. Of course, Brady has an ideal playing scenario, working under both Kraft and Belichick. Then again, Kraft looks really good as an owner by just shutting up and letting Belichick coach Brady et al. That’s sort of the thing about talking about coaches and players, isn’t it? We can throw out a dozen if and but clauses and still fail to think of a dozen more. Saying we really don’t know the answer doesn’t exactly generate clicks.

                    • Adam

                      This is why debating the merits of players and coaches is fun. If we could somehow talk to the football gods and learn the true answer to every inquiry, what would we have left to discuss? That would make for a very dull sports landscape.

                  • Adam

                    My post was a bit myopic; of course there have been QB’s who played on stacked teams throughout history. To me, Brady’s situation stands out from the guys you mentioned because it’s been happening for 15 years with no end in sight, and because it’s unprecedented in the salary cap era.

                    Otto Graham probably had the best supporting cast in history, but he only played ten years, and his era had little parity. Montana and Young had stacked teams for a decade or less. Same with Aikman. I’d say Starr and Bradshaw are the closest comparables to what Brady has had, but they played in an era where a few dominant teams were the norm.

                    In the salary cap era, roster and coaching turnover is constant. Virtually every QB who plays a decade plus will have a mix of good and bad defenses, good and bad special teams, and good and bad offensive lines. The deck gets shuffled regularly, often on a year to year basis. Except for Brady, that is. His deck has remained stacked for essentially his entire career. Guys like Peyton and Brees, and Romo have been blessed with great offensive teammates, but not so much in the other phases of the game.

                    I 100% agree that all QB’s are heavily impacted by their surroundings, but some are more versatile than others. Peyton, Marino, Favre, Tarkenton, and even Montana are few guys who I believe would’ve succeeded under many different circumstances. Your Brady/Pennington comparison is apt; I’d also throw in names like Gannon and Anderson. I guess my point is that Brady’s margin of error to become legendary was very small. He had to be in exactly the right situation, and he won the lottery. Would he have been a good or even great QB on another team? Yes. But Belichick made him a legend (in my opinion of course).

        • Adam

          Never was this more evident than SB49. New England picked apart the Legion of Boom without even challenging them deep. At one point, Brady kept throwing horizontal passes to the left sideline, which his receivers would turn into nice chunks of YAC. The Seahawks seemed helpless in trying to stop these basic plays, and that’s after having two weeks to prepare! Like, what the hell is going on?!

          • Tom

            Yep. I didn’t get it either…on that last Pats drive, the Seahawks had no answer. This is the LOB, one of the greatest pass defenses the league had ever seen, and this is their moment to cement their legacy, this was it…and Brady goes 8-for-8 on them and scores. Granted, guys were hurt, and Jeremy Lane had been knocked out…but man. And that’s the Pats for you – everyone in the building knows they’re going to pass, and then they go ahead and pass anyway, and it works. I mean, man, look how close they were to beating the Broncos in the AFCC game! Totally off topic here, but that Bronco’s game might be one of Brady’s best games ever. Ware and Miller were hammering him all day and he was making great plays, and they almost won.

  • 7 Rounds in April

    This is mostly a soccer thing since most other sports that flow back and forth — with a variable number of players available for defense — have higher scoring and you can’t really bunker the same way. Hockey teams could leave all six guys in the defensive end for the whole game, but it’d be suicide. Basketball defends with everyone all the time. But in soccer if you want to sit back with all eleven players in your defensive half and never commit numbers into attack you can make it very hard on a superior team in a way that’s not possible in the other sports.

    Not exactly the same since it was done on offense, but Dean Smith’s 4-corners offense is the closest thing I can think of. But that’s not possible anymore.

  • Josh Sanford

    Almost everything that Solo said was objectionable. The better-playing team wins in soccer. Equal playing teams tie. A big part of the game is coaching, and they got out-coached (to the extent that a regulation-tie demonstrates that the “lesser” team was coached up). Sweden paid us a compliment by resorting to a supposedly ugly style to escape a loss. This was analogous to pre-shot clock basketball. There’s nothing dishonorable or cowardly about playing within the rules to beat a more talented team. If the governors of the game don’t like it, they change the rules.

    The answer to your question is ‘No, not without cheating.’ In fact, any team that “resorts” to any alternative strategy is being the opposite of cowardly. Because if you go weird and you still lose, you look stupid. In other words, Solo should become an NFL coach so she can never change her strategy, regardless of opponent. Or in more other words, Kubiak was a coward for relying on defense to win? That doesn’t pass the laugh test. You play to your strengths.

    • Agree completely. If you can win by being smarter than your opponent rather than being more athletic, then do it. When I played HS football, most of our opponents ran a straight I-formation offense. My high school football team ran a Wing-T because our guards were only 165 pounds. We won a ton of games by zigging when they zagged.

      • Adam

        I think athletes and coaches feel shamed when they get outsmarted, so they try to make it sound like their opponent was doing something shady, as a justification for losing.

        • I am reminded of Harbaugh’s comments about Belichick and New England’s “unfair” plays, which were perfectly legal. Seriously, some coaches have been so far ahead of their peers, mentally, that they had to change the rules to make it more fair.

          • Josh Sanford

            Agreed. The podcast from about a year ago about the Native American influence/dominance in early college football comes to mind.


            As an aside, if Solo wanted to complain more intelligently, it might be about how ties are resolved. It’s a little preposterous. It would be like tie basketball games being decided by which team can hit the most consecutive free throws, or in a football game, which quarterback is the most accurate at hitting the corner pylon from the 10 yard line when there is no play happening–just a throwing contest.

          • Tom

            OK, gotta be honest, the Patriot/Ravens thing bugged the hell out of me. Yep, within the rules, but just so…so damned sneaky! And remember Tom Terrific’s reply? Something like, “Well, maybe those guys need to read the rule book.” Oh man…priceless.

            • Man, I loved it. I’m not a Pats fan, but I get a kick out of seeing Belichick walk the tightrope between fair and nefarious. He’s like a modern day Pop Warner.

  • I’ve heard it said that people used to think Fran Tarkenton’s scrambling was cowardly, but it’s difficult to verify this online — I couldn’t find any quotes or old articles referencing Tarkenton’s supposed cowardliness.

    • sacramento gold miners

      Yes, that’s correct. During the 1960s, other teams felt Tarkenton’s style was cowardly, other QBs simply didn’t move around like he did. The mindset was that scrambling was a sign of weakness, and effective QBs had to stay in the pocket and take the punishment.

      • Tom

        I’d never heard that before…that’s hilarious. Watch the clip of Turkey Jones almost breaking Terry Bradshaw’s neck in 1976, and you know why these guys started scrambling…

  • This is amusingly cowardly.

    • Mat

      THIS ^^^^

  • Tom

    I’m with the others, I just don’t think there’s a way to do it in football. I’m also reminded of the Wyche Bengals and the Patriots. But it seems silly to criticize that – it’s within the rules, and further, if it’s working, then maybe YOUR team should try that. I’m not knowledgeable at all about soccer, but I don’t think there’s an in-game thing in football similar to what Solo is talk about.

    • I do think the no huddle had a bit of that stigma. Maybe coward isn’t the right word, but critics thought it was a gimmick or wasn’t real football.

      • Tom

        Maybe the word we’re looking for here, in reference to the no huddle, is that it’s not “gentlemanly”. You should allow your opponent to prepare himself…like, you don’t shoot the guy in the back as he’s counting his paces when you’re having a respectable gun duel. I think that’s the idea. Anyway, if it’s not in the rules – some kind of minimum prep time – then it’s OK.

        • Adam

          Yeah “gentlemanly” is a better word for football. I think of Greg Schiano coaching his team to charge the QB during a kneel down, and people got upset because he was breaking an unwritten rule. But a super aggressive strategy like that can’t really be called cowardly.

          • Tom

            Yes…Football, The Gentleman’s Game.

      • Joe Wright

        I always thought Peyton Manning’s running up to the line to catch the defense in a substitution was a bit unseemly. But it feels like that’s been normalized now, so I guess I’m ok with it. It probably contributed to my broader dislike for the aesthetics of Peyton as a QB, while totally acknowledging his greatness.

        • Tom

          Right. It’s not “wrong” but it just seems cheap, like punching a guy before you fight him as he’s taking his watch off or something. But, as you say, now that it’s normalized and both teams are aware of what can be done, etc., I’m totally fine with it. It’s actually kind of cool seeing them all hustle around, it’s part of the game now.

  • This is a pretty cowardly way to try to win a football game.

    • Tom

      Um, yeah. Slamming a guy to the ground when he’s just standing there without the ball in his hand is cowardly. I think he would have been thrown out of the league for that today…maybe.

      • I don’t see how that can be viewed as anything but straight up assault.

        • Tom

          Exactly. If you walked up to a guy on the street and did that…which is essentially what’s happening because the play is OBVIOUSLY OVER…you’d be arrested or fined or something.

          • I try to avoid the street argument. If you did a perfectly legal NFL tackle to a person on the street, you’d probably be arrested for that too.

            What Martin did, however, was outside of the sanctioned game even though it took place during the game.

            • Tom

              Right, there’s no discussion there – you’d get arrested for most (all) NFL tackles if you did it to a guy on the street. My point is that Martin and McMahon, were, at that moment, not playing football anymore, they were just two guys standing around, like two guys “on the street”. That’s why, as you noted, it’s straight up assault. We might not have thought Martin such horrible guy (rightly or wrongly) if what he did was within the play, if McMahon was scrambling away, with the ball in his hand. Anyway, discussion for another thread probably, and we both agree it was ridiculous!

  • Mike Luv

    Aaron Rodgers vs Richard Sherman was cowardly, don’t you think?

    • Richie

      What is this in reference to?

      • Adam

        Rodgers refused to throw at Sherman in the 2014 season opener.

      • Mike Luv

        Remember a few years ago when the Packers played the Seahawks and they never threw any passes in Sherman’s direction? It might be smart, but it’s certainly cowardly.

        • Tom

          Totally fine with that. That’s a sign of respect for a great player, and the Seahawks just have to adjust for it.

  • People used to say the forward pass itself was a coward’s way of playing offense.

  • vfefrenzy

    Has no one seen The Waterboy? The villain coach tried to take 3 knees and punt to neutralize Bobby Boucher. Of course they still lost, so maybe not a great example.

  • Richie

    I know very little about soccer strategy.

    But it seems to me that if every team used the Sweden approach and only tried to limit other team’s goals at the expense of scoring themselves, every game would just go to a shootout. Sounds like a terrible spectator sport. But as long as the rules allow it, I can’t fault a team who tries.

    If you are an underdog and think you have a better chance of winning a shootout than winning the regular game – go for it.

    • This strategy has become a little bit of a problem at international level soccer, from the Spanish tiki-taka style of extreme possession soccer to the even more conservative style the Swedes used.

      • Ehh

        Yeah, if “parking the bus” becomes even more wide spread in soccer, the different organisations might have to consider rule changes to encourage offensive play. Hard to say what those would be though.

        At the same time, it’s hard to see a much better team using this strategy against a weaker team. If you’re the better team, why would you want to aim for a penalty shootout where your skill advantage disappears? The solution might then be to replace the tiebreaker with something that correlates better with soccer skills, or you could reduce the number of players in the overtime periods, or modify them in some other way, to make scoring easier.

        • Deacon Drake

          The NHL has cracked the code here. Dropping down to 9 vs 9 would totally open up OTs and reward teams for building attacks.

          Against the US, Sweden kept Blacksteinus up top because she had the size and speed to create on her own, using the other 9 to defend and bomb the occasional counter-attack… US used to play the same way with Wambach, and it usually worked for 1-0 and 2-0 wins. Few people questioned Sweden’s strategy, and this should have just been an instance where Hope Solo kept her mouth shut.

          I think the best US sports analogies are in NCAABB where a small school employs a 2-3 zone to counter a height advantage. The New Jersey Devils were famous for the zone trap that nearly killed the sport in the late 90s with a rut of 1-0 and 2-1 games. If you want to fully read into “cowardly” as an NFL analogy, many opponents would point to the Broncos/Texans zone blocking schemes as they eliminated a size/speed disadvantage with edgy technique.

  • AngelofEpistemology

    Don’t know how applicable this is but I wasn’t comfortable with the notion of the Jets winning with Tim Tebow under center running the wishbone or whatever. Not that I expected the winning to ever actually happen, though

  • Adam

    A team with a big lead and a great defense could presumably kneel three times then punt every time they have the ball. That would be cowardly, but depending on the circumstances it could be effective.

    • Tom

      I’m OK with that…in a way, maybe you’re being respectful of your opponent. As in, “Let’s just end this thing”.

  • What about faking injuries to slow down an offense? Is that cowardly?

    • Nothing wrong with a little gamesmanship, I think. It’s manipulative and dishonest, but I wouldn’t classify it as cowardly. It’s similar, in my mind, to Buddy Ryan’s Polish Defense.

    • Adam

      Is faking injury actually against the rules? Like, would it be a 15 yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty if the refs could prove a player was faking?

      • Tom

        I’m not sure, and I’m not sure how the hell you’d find out. Go up to a guy and wiggle his knee around and say, “See? You’re fine!”

    • Mat

      I think that that’s definitely the the worst way I’ve seen/heard. Everything else mentioned is just a fair strategic approach to maximizing your strengths and highlighting your opponent’s weaknesses, but that’s always been (at least to me) a cheap thing of gamesmanship.

    • Mike Luv


    • Tom

      Occasionally, I’m fine with it. If it gets out of hand, then yeah, it’s cowardly. At some point, you just have to take your medicine and lose.

  • James Sinclair

    Every so often a video pops up of some youth football team doing a trick play where the offense lines up, but the quarterback “realizes” there’s something wrong with the ball. The center hands it to him and everyone stands up, relaxed, as the QB jogs toward the sideline—only to turn suddenly and sprint downfield.

    That, I think, is a bit cowardly. I’m all in favor of trick plays in almost any context, but not so much when the “trick” is that the other team doesn’t know the play has started. Especially in a sport as violent as football (imagine the consequences for a defensive player who goes after a QB who really was just innocently jogging to the sideline).

    Of course, I also think plays like that should be illegal (they probably are in some places). I can’t think of anything I’d consider “cowardly” but am still ok with it being part of the game.

    • Richie

      That’s a good one.

      I’ve seen those plays and never liked them. A little like the boy who cried wolf. Then if the QB ever actually has a problem, such as a chin strap not buckled, the opposing defensive end might just come around from the blindside and pound the QB while his offensive line watches.

  • sacramento gold miners

    Difficult to think of a cowardly way in the pros outside the cheap shots mentioned here. Charles Martin, the classless Packer in the video clip, is deceased.

    In the college ranks, I would say running up the score on a completely outclassed opponent is cowardly. Houston put up something like 95 points on a SMU team just back from the death penalty.

    • Tom

      Agreed. Not sure if it’s “cowardly”, but it’s totally lame. One of the reasons I have a heck of a time understanding/watching college football (some games anyway). What’s the fun in watching an obviously superior team play and obviously inferior team?

  • Tom

    Since we’re on a roll, do we think walking a great hitter in baseball is cowardly?

    • Richie

      I think so.

      What if batters were allowed to “decline” a ball. If the ump calls a ball, the batter can say “no, I’ll take that as a no-pitch”?

    • Nope. The math doesn’t work, an intentional walk is almost never the right play. BP or Fangraphs ran a sim where teams walked Barry Bonds at the height of his powers every time. It turns out a 1.000 obp makes you the most valuable player ever. Walking great hitters (as opposed to pitching around them, where there is still a chance of an out) is awful strategy, not cowardly.
      Throwing at hitters? That’s cowardly.

      • Richie

        It may make Bonds the greatest player ever. But the team walking him doesn’t really care about that. All they care about is preventing him from hitting a home run right now.

  • I’m not really a fan of calling professionals who are employing unconventional tactics to win the game they were tasked with winning “cowards”. They’re doing their job as best they are able. That’s pragmatism, not cowardice.

    With that said, I think the closest thing I could think of in Football to just not letting the other team have a chance would be some of the “Zeno’s Penalties” stuff where a team just takes repeated penalties to run out the remainder of the clock. See, for instance: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/sports/college/football/2006-11-06-clock-loophole_x.htm

  • I don’t like the concept of equating a strategic decision to a moral failing like cowardice. Cheap shots are cowardly. Intentionally attempting to injure another player is in my opinion cowardly *cough Steelers cough*. What the Swedes did was hardly cowardly. And Solo is the closest thing Women’s soccer has to a jackass, so I take her reaction with a grain of salt as well as looking forward to seeing her eclipsed on the national squad before the World Cup in 2019.
    She’s not wrong that it’s a little boring to watch, but I’m not sure that there’s anything you can do to fix it other than a) shoot better. or b) lobby FIFA to change the rules somehow. Personally I’d like to see the overtime rules changed to either remove the goalies or remove the goalies hand privileges (so a standard goalie save in overtime would be a handball that resulted in a PK). That would eliminate the coin flip nature of the shootout.

  • Josh Sanford
  • Robert Keller

    When I was in High School, we had a good basketball team, won something like 7 straight conference titles at one stretch. We beat one of our league rivals on their court 113-65 in the first of two meetings one season. This was in the days before shot clocks, and in the second game they held the ball and played a “Slow-Mo-O” for all of the first half. But, even though they had to wake up the spectators with a firehose at the half, the score was only 4-2. At the end of 3 (with some more stalling) it was like 12-8 and at the end we won, but there was no 48 point beat down in this one. You do what you have to do to give yourself a chance to win. I don’t blame Sweden for playing the way they did. Outshot that badly, yet they found a way to win when they should have gotten killed, and that’s what it is all about in major competition. This wasn’t a local recreation or AYSO game with Participation Trophies (yechh) and juiceboxes and orange slices. This was for high stakes.