11.1.16

BEATING TO WINDWARD.

We begin today's strategy lesson with a passage from F. B. Cooke's Seamanship for Yachtsmen.
For sheer enjoyment I doubt if you will find anything else in the world of sport to equal that of steering a yacht to windward in a smart breeze.  It is not only extremely exhilarating, but also calls for considerable skill on the part of the helmsman.  Take the case of two yachts of similar size and design: the one sailed by an expert and the other by a novice.  Running and reaching, the performance of the two would not differ to any marked extent, but when sheets were gathered for a beat to windward the expert would come into his own and drop his opponent every board.  The skill of a helmsman is therefore judged by his ability to get a boat to windward.
In a race, gaining distance on competitors to windward makes protecting your lead on the reaching and running legs, where following boats have the opportunity to take the wind out of your sails (yes, landlubbers, there's a precise meaning to that term.)

That makes the Green Bay Packers come-from-behind victory on Sunday night particularly satisfying.
When the Packers’ offense came to life in the second quarter on Sunday, the running game still hadn’t found its groove.

When the ground game did so midway through the third quarter, there was no stopping the Packers in a 35-18 NFC wild-card playoff victory over the Redskins at FedEx Field.

Through Green Bay’s first running play of the second half, the Packers had gained a measly 19 yards on 10 rushing attempts.
Then Eddie Lacy ran for eleven yards on a fourth-and-one, followed by thirty yards to set up a short touchdown pass.

The scoring drives of the third quarter deprived Washington of a tailwind.  In the first half, the Packers won the toss, elected (unusually) to receive, and Washington chose to defend the windward goal.  The Packers went nowhere into the wind, and only a Redskin receiver holding the ball in the wrong hand near the goal line kept the deficit manageable.  In the second quarter, the headwind messed up a Washington place-kick, and the passing game began to work for the Packers.
The third-seeded Redskins, who finished 9-8, forced [quarterback Aaron] Rodgers into an incompletion on third and 4 on the Packers' fifth possession. However, the Redskins were penalized for trying to change personnel and not getting the last player off the field, giving Green Bay a first down.

Seven plays later, the Packers were in the end zone and their 11-0 deficit had been trimmed to 11-7.
Arguably, the incomplete pass might have been because the quarterback has to get a play off while the illegal substitution is taking place, but the ensuing play, a long pass to James Jones, might have boosted the offense's confidence.

Enough so, though, for the Packers to choose to defend the leeward goal to open the third quarter?  Washington received the kickoff and drove for a touchdown.  They would only have four more plays with the tailwind.
With Rodgers superbly directing coach Mike McCarthy's well-conceived and persistent design and play calls, the Packers marched for four touchdowns and a field goal in their final three possessions of the first half and their first two possessions of the second half.

The drives – 80, 30, 60, 80 and 76 yards – added up to 326 yards in 47 plays. Suddenly, the game was over, and the crowd of 81,367 headed for home early in the fourth quarter on a windy 61-degree day in the Washington suburbs.

"We couldn't get them off the field," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. "Aaron did what he did. Had a great game. They had a good game plan for us. Both sides of the ball."
That eighty yard drive came immediately after the Redskin touchdown.  Good first down plays, stay ahead of the chains, run the ball, don't put any passes up into the wind, run a lot of clock, score.  Had the Packers been forced to punt (there was a fourth-and-one run of eleven yards in the drive) the naysayers might have questioned the team's choice to defend the leeward goal.

But with the tailwind, the best the Redskins could do on their next possession was a three-and-out.  The third quarter ended in the middle of that 76 yard drive, with the Packers at midfield.

Perfect for my sailing metaphor.  Round the mark, get a good spinnaker set, and far enough ahead to sail in clean air.  Downwind to the end zone.  And the Deadskins had to beat to windward in the fourth quarter.

That's about as close as you can get, dear reader, to taking the wind out of a team's sails in a sport other than yacht racing.

Win and keep playing.

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