Strange thing consistency.
You would have thought that it would be one of the easiest things in the world to achieve. All that is required is that you do the same thing again and again until it becomes a demonstrable habit. In the case of the NFL, like any other human pursuit, it is thought that a rigorous programme of skills practice, conditioning and preparation will lead to a measure of consistency in performance that leads to the win on Sunday. In areas outside the NFL, it's expected to translate into a promotion, a pay rise, a superlative test score, an ability to take freekicks like David Beckham,dive like Cristiano Ronaldo (I'm not mad), bowl a cricket ball like Glenn McGrath, bat like Barry Bonds (Okay he may have had some 'help') and write like J.D Salinger. It's the ultimate comfort blanket for fans, coaches, parents, spouses, siblings and interested spectators. It provides us with the expectation of good things to come.
But here's the rub, it's not actually that easy. Skills practice, conditioning and preparation will perhaps get you to the stage where a certain level of performance is more likely but it will never be able to guarantee a desired result.
And it's because of what Von Clausewitz termed 'fricton' and what Buddhist philosophy terms as ' other-powered' that is the cumulative effect of external cause and effect. The external factors that mean what can go wrong will go wrong. Al Davis' famous 'Comittment to excellence' with it's organisational drive for best practice in everything they do (stop sniggering), has basically been derailed by Murphy's Law, which is a way of relating to the vagaries of cause and effect that all of us can relate to.
What Von Clausewitz went on to say however in his famous treatise "On War" and what his predecessor Sun Tzu in his equally famous book "The Art of War" would have agreed with is that, it's not how you prepare that defines you so much as how you adapt that preparation to what then goes wrong.
It's what makes a good leader.
And lets face it, when applied to the NFL, nothing makes sense when talking about leadership more than that. We're talking about the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object, a game where when the average offensive lineman meets the nose guard the kinetic force that results is enough to move one ton one inch. That's what I call 'friction'.
If we take for granted that both teams will have prepared over the off-season, will have taken care of their conditioning and preparation, will have game planned for each other and will have equal will to win then to explain what happens after that we'll need to pay some lip service to 'friction'. Talent occasionally explains why teams win, it doesn't always. Memories of SB36 are still fresh enough for me to know that to be true where a team such as that Patriots team should not have been able to do what they did looking purely at the talent balance sheets of the respective teams.
And this is why I've been impressed with Linehan in particular. Linehan has set a tone for this team that has been reassuring despite the reverses of the last couple of weeks or so. Under Mike Martz, who was a coach who I think the Rams franchise owes a lot to, there was a feeling towards the end of his tenure that we were a couple of unfortunate decisions away from a five game skid.
'Shoot we'll fix that' became a phrase synoymous with a coach who presided over a gradual leaking of talent,and poor drafts whilst at the same time being known for strange game time decisions and a failure to communicate with his superiors. Married to his offensive genius, and genius it undoubtedly was, it made for a heady concoction of boom and/or bust. Toward the end, as the novelty wore off and the GSOT became a distant memory that in it's death throes only served to remind us of what we had , Martz eccentricities became harder to bear and "Shoot we'll fix that" became his epitaph.
Linehan, to me, has demonstrated over the course of these past seven games and even more so perhaps in pre-season, that he is a man who can prepare, but more importantly he is a man who can adapt to changing circumstances or 'friction'.
There is evidence of this in the way that he responded to the teams offensive struggles by adapting terminology and gameplan. An appoach that says to me that he is free of some of the hubris demonstrated by his predecessor. There is also evidence for me in the manner with which we've dropped those last two games. Any game in which the result can be interminably debated not so much for coaching decisions but for the timing of a turnover is something new around here.
Whilst we have good talent at the offensive skill positions, our offensive line is inconsistent and our defence flashes talent at LB and at one end but has shown little else. With this we've managed to get to 4-3 and a share of first place in a division that has the reigning NFC champions in it. We could as easily be 2-5 of course, but the point is that we're not and I think a large part of that is Mr Linehan and what he brings to this team.
There was some unfortunate talk earlier in the season about Haslett being the power behind the throne form those who should be able to see past their own slighted pride. The last two weeks have made a lie of that, if it wasn't obvious before. Any coach would look conservative next to someone like Martz, but I don't think it's conservative as much as it is a demonstration of equanimity. An ultimate belief in the nature of what you're doing allied with a personality free of some of the egotistical baggage demonstrated elsewhere such as Saban, Green and Billick.
The next few weeks are an acid test of this team, but I think that Linehan and his team have demonstrated enough mettle to be able to soldier through them with something to show for it at the end. I'm not saying playoffs and neither will I until it happens but I think that this team has a fundamentally more solid look about it than at any time for the last two or three years and I think that Linehan is responsible for that. He has a plan, and if that doesn't work he seems to have the ability to adjust.
Learn this from the waters;
In mountain clefts and chasms,
Loud gushes the streamlets,
But great rivers flow silently.
Empty things make a noise
The full is always quiet.
The fool is like a half filled pot,
The wise man is like a deep still pool.
I like where we're at, I like where we're going and I like the fact we're doing it quietly.