I'm writing here just to respond to a lot of the rhetoric against the deep passes this week on third down. At first, I agreed with the criticism, but I've watched as it's evolved into this sort-of belief that anything past 10 yards on 3rd and 3 is a BAD IDEA. Now that, I think, is not just wrong -- it's a weakening of your offense. So let's discuss this...
First, you need to trust me when I say, I’m the guy in Madden who throws the slant over the middle or the tight end hook pattern on EVERY third down I need to pick up. I think it's important to say that, so that you know while I'm not totally being a devil's advocate here, believe me when I get the short timing pass on 3rd and 3. Or the slant out. Or whatever. I throw it in Madden about 90% of the time, because I know it will work 90% of the time. That’s the difference between Madden and the NFL, though. You can’t become that predictable in the NFL. It doesn’t mean you should go deep on every third and short, but even more than that it means that if you think it’s the best route you have for picking up the first down because the defense is clamping down over the middle, then go ahead and throw a few of those long ones. A slant or short route would have been a fantastic call. But the long passes Gailey was dialing up were also a fantastic call, particuarly because it communicates something to the defense -- that they can’t relax EVER. If we’d converted one or two of those, this wouldn’t even be a topic of discussion. The long pass in that situation does demand almost perfect execution from your offense. The protection has to be good, the throw has to be there, and the catch has to happen. True, the short slant isn't that demanding, which is why it's a higher percentage play, but what's also true is that it doesn't dictate to the defense in quite the same way. That's not being stressed as much as it should be around here this week. It really is an even trade.
I also realize that David Nelson was somewhat being taken away due to his effectiveness. That's also part of the equation, but it's beside the point that I want to discuss here. I just wanted to provide an alternate voice or a different slant on this opinion. I’m the last guy in the world I thought would be arguing against the possession route on 3rd down, but let’s be realistic. It’s not the call in this case that’s the problem.
Because it can succeed on literally every down and distance, the long pass is a valid play on ANY down when the coverage is deemed right. That's the point. It's got to be. It has to be part of the playbook rotation where you can at least trot it out as an audible at any given point in time. You can't be afraid of throwing it just because the down and distance and statistics dictate something else, or because you failed at it the last two times and it would look embarrassing to fail again. Do that, and the opposing defense has enough of an idea of your plans where they can attack you confidently. Was it sprinkled in a little much last week? Perhaps. The way I see it, Buffalo chose to attack where they saw the most prevalent weakness. That might be a weak silver lining, but I'll be damned if I don't take that misstep over gameplans that throw 1-yard passes to the flat on 3rd and 9. I'll err on the side of aggression before I'll call plays without a pulse any day.