I know this has been discussed elsewhere. I know by looking at Lombardi's picture, it's apparent he should know exactly what soft is. I know this really is a semantic argument that doesn't matter, flames being fanned by a media that has little else to talk about in preseason. But, well, it's preseason and I'm all talked out of other stuff until the games start, and I can't listen to another Lombardi podcast or read his words without wanting to pull the bottom out from his house of cards.
Were the Texans flawed last year? Hell, yeah. Did they have times where they weren't mentally as strong as they should have been? Absolutely. But, to me, a team that came back as many times as the Texans did from as far as they did and kept battling (yes, I said battling) had an intrinsic toughness, the antithesis of Lombardi's paper lion argument and “soft” label. (For the purposes of this post, toughness will be used as the opposite of softness, the opposite, positive end of the spectrum). A soft team would have quit on many games last year and quit on the season, which the Texans never did.
To Lombardi's arguments:
First, Lombardi never defines toughness. Is he speaking of physical toughness? Seemingly, when he cites their lack of practicing in pads and discounts their zone running scheme because it's not one that dominates the line of scrimmage.
However, he also says toughness is not about rushing yardage, it's about winning (or a lack thereof). Well, if toughness equals winning, he's got us there. But, he seemingly states that today the NFL is a passing league, so rushing doesn't matter as much, while at the same time linking toughness to dominating the line of scrimmage. According to Lombardi, toughness is protecting the passer (not a Texans weakness) and rushing the passer (an admitted weakness) but not controlling the line of scrimmage with the running game. Huh? He's clearly picking only the aspects of the game that fit his argument.
Lombardi also seems to be implying a lack of mental toughness in labeling the Texans soft. He cites their inability to impose their will at the start of games. He talks about their inability to close out games. Evidently, the middle two quarters and the ability to stage a valiant comeback have nothing to do with a team's toughness. Again, Lombardi picking the aspects of the argument that help his case and ignoring the others.
Lombardi claims he's not challenging their courage, but that's what calling a team soft is absolutely doing.
Back to the not practicing in pads argument that stirred up this whole debate.
How does being in pads help mental toughness? Wouldn't they be better in a classroom studying more film and x's and o's or do just as well in shorts and no pads, running through plays even more because of the extra energy it would allow.
So, perhaps he is hanging his hat on the idea of the Texans being physically soft. His argument takes so many ambiguous forms it's hard to keep track.
Lombardi continually says that “everyone” in the league thinks of the Texans are soft and because he names no names and cites no sources, we are left to take him at his word. But, Winston asserts that most teams practice in a similar non pad way this day and age, which Lombardi never refutes. So, do those teams consider the Texans soft?
Still, Lombardi claims all the tough teams in the league knock heads in practice unlike the Texans.
He goes on to state that the zone running scheme and light on pads practice habits worked briefly for the Broncos in the 90s but seemingly brushes it off as an aberration. He doesn't include the little fact that this method was instilled by Bill Walsh and passed down through his coaching tree that is more influential than any other in the modern day NFL.
I heard a recent interview with Bill Romanowski in which he cited the Bill Walsh practices and said he thought the new practice rules would have zero affect on the toughness on gameday. I have some issues with Romo, but toughness is not one of them and I'll take his word over someone who never played.
Lombardi's practice criticisms imply a system wide malady. They imply that because of the Texans practice habits, their toughness cannot be where it needs to be as a team.
This line of thinking ignores the players on the team who are tough as nails. He continually laughs at the Twitter fans who cited Andre's fight with Finnegan as a sign of toughness, ignoring the fact that he played through the pain of a high ankle sprain. Well, he does say Andre's as tough as it gets but passes him off as an outlier.
Cushing? Lombardi says he's ten pounds lighter so he will have to wait and see. So, if Cushing loses ten pounds, he's not as tough? Or not as good?
Demeco? Eric Winston himself? Lombardi's practice argument would imply that they have not had enough tough practice experience to play tough. He might counter by saying that he meant that the team as a whole couldn't be tough, but I'd argue the team's leaders and most important players speak to a team's toughness more than their bench players. You think of Palamalu and Harrison when you think of the Steelers' toughness, not their 22nd starter.
So was Vonta tough? Pollard?
Pollard is the epitome of Lombardi's argument's flaw. No one would argue Pollard's physical toughness. No one would argue his ability to make clutch, end of the game plays like his blocked field goal in the Redskins game. But, he couldn't cover at all and was emblematic of our teams biggest problem. Not softness but a lack of talent in covering the people who try to catch the ball.
Schaub's Ravens game is another great example of a situation that tears Lombardi's argument apart. Schaub (or Schwab as Lombardi likes to call him) threw the pick 6 in overtime to lose the game. So, obviously, he wasn't mentally tough, right? What about his two 4th quarter 90 yard drives (including the last one, which was 98 yards + a two point conversion). To me, with the last glimmer of playoff hopes at stake, those were two of the gutsiest drives I've ever seen in a regular season game.
By attributing softness to the practice atmosphere and team culture, Lombardi doesn't allow for some players on the team to be tough while others are not, or even some players to display toughness while also having lapses, because you can't become tough without continually banging and cracking skulls.
He doesn't allow for a tough offense that while it started slow, fought back all year.
And the biggest thing, perhaps all I really needed to say, is he doesn't allow for people to be tough but just flat suck. The Texans didn't lose last year because they had no talent or experience in the secondary (according to Lombardi's assertion), not because their defensive coordinator had no clear philosophy or game plan, not because their best offensive player played hurt most of the season, not because of a myriad of other reasons, but because they are soft. Because they don't practice in pads as much as other teams.
Or it could just be that shittiest ever secondary thing.