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Most coaches favor a Dawson-style calm, cool approach in their two-minute quarterbacks. Or, as Walsh says, "an avoidance of theatrics."
"A quarterback's theatrics can destroy a two-minute offense," he says. "Some quarterbacks feel they must work the big play as soon as they get the ball. When I was an assistant coach at Cincinnati, we lost to Cleveland once when Virgil Carter came out of the pocket, threw desperately over the middle and got intercepted. When you leave the pocket, you can't control the defense anymore. They'll come from angles you don't expect. It happened with Greg Cook, too. Quarterback theatrics. The quarterback feels he must make a truly incredible play. It's self-defeating."
Coaching errors also can be self-defeating in the two-minute period. Teams waste seconds before calling a time-out; Dallas let 10 seconds go by before calling a time-out in the closing moments of the Washington caper. The coach-assistant coach-quarterback trio yells at each other as seconds tick off. It's all part of a coaching paralysis that strangles a two-minute operation.
"A coach will blow it," one player says, "and then when the reporters question him, he'll lay it off on the team. It's always, 'They didn't run hard enough, they didn't block hard enough, they didn't want it bad enough.' It's never, 'I didn't coach well enough.' "
What kind of two-minute offensive, or defensive, statistics are good? Green Bay Coach Bart Starr says, "We consider 50% good, but we prefer better." He was talking about offense—one out of two series producing a score in the two-minute period at the end of either half. "We keep stats on everything," says Detroit Coach Monte Clark. "None of them are very good." Bum Phillips doesn't want to be reminded of his team's offensive failings in the two-minute phase the last few seasons. Phillips says that, defensively, the Oilers shoot for 100% success if the opponent begins its two-minute drill beyond midfield, 80% inside the 50. "But that's just clinic talk," Bum says. "We try to stop everybody all the time."
Two coaches have broken it down by the numbers. Landry's offensive goal is a modest 50%; the Cowboys hit that in 1978, but they slumped to 30% in 1979, despite the four games Staubach pulled out at the end. "It's deceiving," Landry says. "You could have four or five two-minute series in a game and cash in on only one of them, but if it's the last one in the game, then you're in good shape." On defense, the Cowboys' prevent stopped people 70% of the time in 1979, 88% in 1978.
Washington Coach Jack Pardee produced some eye-catching statistics in 1979—57.1% success on offense (12 for 21), 80% on defense (20 for 25). However, two of those five defensive failures came in the final Dallas game and cost the Redskins a berth in the playoffs.
Pardee is one of the few coaches who devote more than one day a week to practicing Two-Minute Football. Most coaches install the two-minute game at training camp, then spend about 15 minutes a week polishing it—usually on Friday or Saturday. Generally, the more talented veterans on the roster, the less work is needed. "Most teams practice it more than we do," says Pittsburgh Coach Chuck Noll, "but that will change." Paul Brown supposedly didn't practice the two-minute game at all. "He knew he couldn't cope with it," says one of Brown's former Cincinnati Bengals, "so he didn't want to deal with it. He didn't like anything that gave control to the players. He'd be totally helpless, from an authoritarian and ego standpoint. For Brown, it would be like standing there totally naked."
On the whole, most of the innovations in the two-minute period have been on defense. Oh, there have been a few offensive ripples, and at least three NFL coaches say they'll use the shotgun this year. "Why they're just getting to the shotgun now is what I can't understand," says New York Giants General Manager George Young. "I mean, Dallas has had it all these years, and other people are only starting to copy it." The use of extra wide receivers has been standard third-and-long practice for years, and the 1978 rule change created Big Ben and Geronimo.
But the defense, in its never-ending search for a prevent that will actually prevent something, has gone to a fifth back (nickel), a sixth (dime) and last year a move by L.A. to a seventh (penny) in the playoffs. The basic 3-4 defense turns into a 4-2-5 or 4-1-6 or even a 4-7 in the clutch, and designated pass-rushers such as Mark Gastineau of the Jets and Jesse Baker of the Oilers become common.