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Tuesday, September 29: About The Hook-And-Lateral

Posted by Matt Terl on September 29, 2009 – 10:21 am

It was my least-favorite part of an unfavorite day: with, in all likelihood, one play left to pull out a Pyrrhic win against a desperate Detroit team, the logical move would seem to be the classic Hail Mary, a desperation hurl into the endzone hoping for a miracle catch or a defensive pass interference allowing one final play.

That’s not what happened; instead, we saw this.

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A pass to Santana Moss followed by two designed laterals, one to Antwaan Randle El and the next to Ladell Betts.

Coach Jim Zorn defended the call at his press conference yesterday. “If you looked in the end zone,” he said, “they had both of their wide receivers standing in the back. So we decided to go with a play that would maybe give us a chance to run the ball in, with an opportunity to pitch, lateral and try to get in running. So that’s what we did. That’s all I can tell you that play was.”

Moss was a bit more forthcoming.

“It’s just a play that we have in our repertoire that if we ever get into that situation,” Moss told me. “I mean, if you catch the ball and pitch it off and just try to get something out of nothing. Get the [defensive] guys to clamp onto one person and then somebody else has got the ball.”

Betts’s explanation was similar. “We’ve worked on it before. You hope by the time I get the ball that the defense isn’t around anymore,” Betts explained. “Maybe they’ve been tricked into Santana, maybe they’ve been tricked into Randle El having the ball; then he pitches to me, and maybe I have a free shot to the endzone. But it didn’t work out that way.”

None of this really alleviated my frustration with the call — if their wide receivers were playing cornerback, doesn’t that make defensive pass interference even more likely? and wouldn’t throwing the ball into the endzone be making something out of nothing? — but even setting that aside, I was frustrated with the way the play ended.

In my mind, the hook-and-lateral play should end in one of three ways (if you must call it at all, that is): with the offense scoring a touchdown, the defense getting the ball, or the ball rolling out of bounds on a bad lateral. This one ended with Betts being tackled with the ball.

Betts said that was how the play was supposed to be set up, albeit not how it was supposed to end, and that the thought of continuing to pitch the ball — a la the Stanford band play or that New Orleans Saints play of a few years ago — wasn’t part of the plan.

“We didn’t verbally discuss that — like ‘pitch the ball around’ or anything like that,” Betts said. “The play’s designed the way it happened; the defender was there. Everything happened so fast, I don’t even know if there was anybody behind me at the time. You know, everything’s just, like…” He snaps his fingers. “Like in split seconds.”

Moss confirmed this. “Not that many guys are supposed to touch it,” he said. “It’s just three guys supposed to touch it and The last guy’s supposed to be off to the races.”

I pressed on this point — should Betts have considered lateralling the ball again? “Nah, nah, nah,” Moss said. “He was the last resort.”

But Moss emphatically did NOT share my frustration with the play call. “I feel like it was giving us a chance to do something, you know what I mean? Something different.”

He shrugged, then continued. “They were expecting us to go deep with the ball, so we did something different. Like I said, everybody’s gonna have their own opinions about this and that, but until they play the game, until they enter that game and enter that situation … then they’ll understand more about why certain things are called and certain things are not.”

So, while I still can’t get fully behind this playcall, the people who were actually involved have no such qualms.

Part of me thinks that all of this — the playcall, the loss, everything — would’ve been a little more palatable if one of those players I’m completely sick of hearing about hadn’t won his game in the last second by throwing the ball into the back of the endzone. That definitely makes an already frustrating play just that extra little bit worse.


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