[size=18px]Taking care of business at the goal line a must[/size]

John Mackovic
Special to The Desert Sun
December 24, 2005

"That's what I'm talking about. That's what I'm talking about" shouts Pittsburgh Steelers' animated coach Bill Cowher when things are going right.
Last week against the Minnesota Vikings, Cowher must have used the phrase plenty of times. TV announcers Kevin Harlan and Randy Cross smartly related how Cowher had taken down all the game signs for the Steelers opponents in 2005 and replaced them with only Vikings material.

He announced to his team this was a playoff game on the road, and they responded in typical Pittsburgh fashion. Rough and tumble play, an alert kicking game and stout defense close to their goal line.

With their very own bus, Jerome Bettis, hobbling on a pair of worn tires, the Steelers went to Willie Parker to damage the Vikings. Parker gained 81 yards in 14 carries and showed a burst in his running to provide another dimension to the Pittsburgh offense.

Minnesota, meanwhile, self-destructed most of the afternoon. Penalties galore kept them from sustaining much of any drive, and when they did get close enough, they were unable to get the job done. Four times inside the Steelers 20-yard line and they showed a mere 3 points.

Goal-line innovation

Why do so many teams stall in their goal line offense and wind up kicking field goals instead of scoring touchdowns?
Harlan and Cross mentioned the Steelers like to just ram it in there to prove their strength and determination, but I thought the idea was to score touchdowns.

The goal line offense has become almost a second thought for so many teams, as I see little imagination and even worse tactics.

Tom Landry had the best goal line offense I ever witnessed. He used multiple formations with men in motion and coordinated two and three plays together to start with the identical look. He would pass on first down and run on third down, but rarely would he do the same thing in order.

Ermel Allen was the quality control coach for the Cowboys under Landry and he would chart our offense each week.
He paid particular attention to special situations like the goal line, and he would list each formation with the plays that had been used for the year.

Since there were fewer plays in this situation, they fell into place easily for us to study.

Landry ran the same plays but defenses could not expect them at a given time, and that is what has become the norm in the NFL and college football as well. Run. Run. Pass. Kick.

Landry did all the film study himself and each Friday morning he would meet with the entire offense and present the goal-line package for the game. He meticulously detailed the characteristics of each defensive lineman and stated how we would attack his part of the defense. There were four distinct methods of attack on the goal line.

Isolate a defender and run directly at him; force him to make the play

Run away from trouble (a dominant player)

Double team one or two defenders and run at that location

Surprise a defender by trapping him when he shoots straight ahead.

These elements were the foundation of the plays for the game plan, and Tom Landry, with his engineering mind and degree, cemented the pieces together to make them solid. I never went into a game with him that I did not know for sure that our goal-line offense would score when we got there.

The pass works

Joe Gibbs knows the secret.
His Redskins scored easily against Dallas last week when on the goal line. So what if you don't run right over somebody?

Marc Brunell threw for TDs on first down twice. It was easy.

The other problem with some teams is the lack of deft ball handling by their quarterbacks. Some quarterbacks have either not been taught well enough or fail to grasp the necessity of good fakes to help the passes and runs, so the naked plays like Manning's go for naught.

When I left the Cowboys to become head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs in 1983, I took the three-tight end offense and installed it. We used it every year since then, and I believe it is still the best conceptual goal line offense going. In 1990 at Illinois we threw 14 passes in our goal-line offense and hit all 14 for touchdowns.

The playoffs are taking shape and this week has more crucial games. NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and his elves saw the dates and scheduled all but three games on Christmas Eve to allow as many players, coaches and fans to be home for Christmas Day as possible.

Way to go, Santa Paul.

This week's big ones

San Diego at Kansas City: OK Chargers, no one promised you a rose garden. San Diego knew what was ahead of them these last few weeks, but that hardly makes it any easier. Nothing is tougher than going to Arrowhead Stadium for Christmas Eve and playing the Chiefs, who are on their last legs for any post-season play.
The Chargers played last week like they belong with the best in the NFL and but for a few careless weeks could be fighting for the second-best record in the AFC.

Pittsburgh at Cleveland: With its big victory last week against Minnesota and lowly Detroit next week, the Steelers see this game as the clincher for the playoffs. For Cleveland, it is payback time for their earlier loss in Pittsburgh.

The Browns have some of the most creative and raucous fans in the NFL, and they lay in wait for the Steelers each year. Check out all the signs and crazy Dog Pound faces. Since it is Christmas, the Steelers will probably get some bones as gifts.