“Since the general civilization of mankind, I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpation” -James Madison

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Elephants, learn from Cardinals

The Arizona Cardinals are truly a great story in this year's NFL playoffs, and their story should inspire Republicans how to win going forward.

The Cardinals made the playoffs by winning their division, the NFC West. This was a weak division that lost to everyone they played; basically, the Cards were the least-worst team, finishing barely above .500 at 9-7. They were considered the weakest team in the playoff field and were expected to lose big in the first playoff game.

The main knock against the Cards this season is that they had no run offense to speak of, and their defense as a whole was shaky and inconsistent. On both sides of the ball their line was pushed around by every team they played.

In their first playoff game, a Wildcard round against my Atlanta Falcons, they changed up. The Falcons came into the game as solid favorites due to an established run game, a solid passing game, and a bend-but-don't-break defense whose secondary really got its act together toward the end of the season. The Cards met this challenge with strong line play that shut down Atlanta's run game entirely, an aggressive defense that jumped pass routes to intercept or break up passes, and a highly effective running game that baffled the Falcons defense all afternoon. The Cards won that first game handily, with the Falcons never really in it much after the beginning of the 2nd half.

The Cards then moved on to play the Carolina Panthers and were even more of an underdog. Carolina's defense was expected to shut the Cards down, and Arizona's defense was expected to be ineffective against the Panthers' pass attack. The game against the Falcons, while not necessarily viewed as a fluke, was not seen as any sort of turning point. After allowing Carolina to score a touchdown on their first drive rather easily, the Cards owned every second of the game after that -- their defense picked off 5 interceptions, shut down every Carolina run and pass threat, and had a high-powered offense that marched down the field on every drive. They stomped the Panthers and are now in the championship round. More than this, they have a possibility of hosting the championship game should the Eagles prevail over the Giants today.

What has caused this change? A few factors spring to mind. First, the Cards have gone back to basics. They have changed their approach and focus to controlling the battle (line of scrimmage) as much as possible on offense and defense. Offensively they have established a strong running game, which allows their already-effective passing game to explode. Defensively they have gotten incredibly aggressive -- pass-rushing, anticipating pass routes, and strong linebacking that stops runs. Secondarily, there is obviously a new focus on Team. They know that this is a history-making season for them already, and that only by continuing to shoot for the larger goal will they succeed in winning immediate battles. Finally, the leadership, coaching and on-field, has found a way to communicate with the team in general and inspire their confidence and desire to be better than they had been.

The Republicans need to view this as a metaphor for what they need to do. They are down, decidedly the weaker team in every aspect at this time. Barring complete disaster from the Dem rule, there is currently no reason to expect that the Elephants at this time will do anything to capture enough votes in the next few elections to re-attain any real power. Even in the case of the Dem disaster, those votes will be in protest of the Dems, not in support of the Republicans. The leadership has not learned its lessons, the rank-and-file don't believe in them (or the Team) anymore, and we expect our season is over. And you can forget about Special Teams.

I know sports-as-metaphor is hackneyed, cliched, and tired. Too bad. Elephants, see what the Cards did? You can do that, too. They might lose the next game. They might win and go to the Super Bowl, where they might lose or win. In any event, they have succeeded far beyond their expectations, while the Elephants are underperforming by every possible measure, and their season is now a success regardless of what happens next.

Learn. Get back to being conservatives. Win the Crowd. Above all, do anything but what you are doing now, because that way ends the season under .500, watching others play for the Prize.


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