Monday, October 3, 2011

Welcome to the New NFL

In today's NFL, this guy is a 4000+ yard passer.
Think back with me to your younger days. What was one of the biggest wild cards in all of high school? That's right, it was 'The New Teacher.' You never quite knew what you were getting with the new teacher. He could be some oblivious older guy that any semi-clever student could walk all over. Or, he could be some middle-aged disciplinarian who appeared to be just weeks removed from active duty.

In my high school, we broke in new teachers on seemingly regular basis. From what I can remember, we had some kind of staff change at the turn of nearly every semester. For the most part, the changes were fairly uneventful and everything was business as usual. My sophomore year, however, saw the school bring in a fresh-out-of-college guy to take over one of our required core curiculum classes. To be fair, he was an extremely nice guy and everybody liked him a lot, including me. There was just something about him though that made me feel like I could do whatever I wanted. And, of course, as a dumb, immature 16 year old high schooler, I pretty much tried to do exactly that. (Best example: Filming a video for a class project that involved us fake running over a guy in my friends car and pretty much mocking the entire project in general. Also, we though it was a good idea to end the video with a guy in a bikini. Yes, stupid. Needless to say, we got in trouble.)

Unfortunately, this new teacher was the type to assign homework. Lots of homework. Specifically, he would expect us to write a paper about nearly everything we discussed in class. Sometimes, we would write 2-3 papers per week. After a few weeks worth of these papers, we all got sick and tired of going through this same rigmarole week after week. The teacher was a nice guy and the class was somewhat enjoyable, but the end result was always disappointing. More papers. Finally, I decided to voice my opinion in a not so subtle way. Below is an example of the way I would start one of these papers...

"Well, well, well, Mr. (teachers name)...we meet again."

By the end of the semester, this one simple sentence had expanded into several paragraphs of discontented rhetoric. 75% of my papers were filled with crap! While using a large portion of the word count on this junk was a nice benefit, the point was to express how frustrated I was at having to these same stupid papers week after week.

Up until Sunday afternoon, I had largely forgotten about that entire situation. How weird is it then,that for whatever reason, after Bobby Carpenter's pick six, THIS is the first thing that popped into my head.

"Well, well, well, Tony Romo...we meet again."

Indeed, we did.

Several weeks ago, I officially announced my divorce from Tony Romo. It certainly was a long time coming. For years, I had stuck up for Tony and held out hope that he would figure things out. After the devastating Week 1 collapse against the Jets, I could no longer stand by his side. Then, the unthinkable happened...Tony was clutch in Week 2! Afterwards, we would learn that Romo had returned to the game and led Dallas to a thrilling OT victory despite broken ribs and a punctured lung. Naturally, I took him back. We were together once again. "Maybe he's changed," I told myself. "Maybe the Jets collapse was rock-bottom and it will make him better." After playing brilliantly in building a 27-3 2nd half lead against undefeated Detroit, my decision certainly seemed to be a good one. Then Tony Romo happened.

"Well, well, well, Tony Romo. We meet again."

I don't think I need to rehash what happened in the 2nd half of that game. If you didn't get a chance to see it, go watch a bridge collapse and you'll pretty much understand what happened. What should have been an impressive "statement" victory turned into an amalgam of the entire Tony Romo era. The Lions didn't win the game...Tony Romo lost it.

Believe me when I tell you that I have never, EVER felt as bad after a loss as I did on Sunday afternoon. Bill Simmons often talks about taking his dog on a long walk after a tough loss. My response yesterday was to stop watching the NFL, turn on NCAA Football 2012, mercilessly blow a team out by nearly 100 points, and sit in silence for nearly an hour. After realizing that I was just going to be miserable and unhappy for the time being, I decided to make everyone else in my house as happy as possible, mostly to compensate for my unhappiness. My 2 year old daughter and I walked to the store (she loves going on walks), where I bought my wife a giant cake (she's 9 months pregnant), myself 2 Amps (which I downed almost immediately) and my daughter some toy dinosaurs. While that made me feel better, it did not erase the pain I still felt at this collapse. Even today, one full day later, I feel miserable and sad, bordering on feeling physically ill because of what happened Sunday.

With respect to Bill Barnwell, there is no defending Tony Romo. It's idiotic to do so. You can throw out any advanced stat you want to support your case, but you'd still be wrong. I watch all the games, I've seen it happen too many times before. Don't blame our receivers/running backs/lineman for not tackling Bobby Carpenter or Chris Houston. They aren't supposed to be tackling people! Don't blame the defense for giving up late TD's to Calvin Johnson. The defense didn't surrender those 14 points to the Lions and they weren't responsible for changing the entire game in the Lions favor. Also, how do you expect them to defend Calvin Johnson when the rules basically prevent defenders from doing so?

On second thought, maybe we should focus on the rules for a second. After 4 weeks of evidence, I think it's pretty clear that the rules have dramatically changed the game. Quarterbacks and receivers have a never before seen advantage. Thanks to this, we are seeing an unprecented amount of "historical" comebacks and an other worldly amount of points. To give you an idea of how out of control this has gotten, here's a list of the current passing leaders ranked by their full 16 game projections (based on their current pace 1/4 of the way through the season).

1. Tom Brady - 6212YDS 52TDS 111.3 QB Rating
2. Drew Brees - 5640YDS 40TDS 102.9 QB Rating
3. Cam Newton - 5544YDS 20TDS 84.5 QB Rating
4. Aaron Rodgers - 5300YDS 48TDS 124.6 QB Rating
5. Philip Rivers - 5144YDS 20TDS 87.7 QB Rating
6. Tony Romo - 5092YDS 28TDS 92.9 QB Rating
7. Matthew Stafford - 4868YDS 44TDS 100.4 QB Rating
8. Matt Hasselbeck - 4608YDS 32TDS 104.7 QB Rating
9. Ben Roethlisberger - 4592YDS 12TDS 80.2 QB Rating
10. Matt Ryan - 4540YDS 24TDS 84.8 QB Rating
11. Eli Manning - 4264YDS 32TDS 105.6 QB Rating
12. Kevin Kolb - 4196YDS 20TDS 87.0 QB Rating
13. Ryan Fitzpatrick - 4160YDS 36TDS 96.9 QB Rating
14. Michael Vick - 4084 YDS 24TDS 91.9 QB Rating
15. Mark Sanchez - 4020YDS 24TDS 75.9 QB Rating

That makes 15 QB's who are currently on pace to pass for 4000 yards or more. Obviously, that would be an NFL record. By far. Last season, only 5 QB's tossed for more than 4000 yards.

Looking back 10 seasons ago, when the rules were much less slanted towards the offense, the difference is stark. Ten years ago, nobody threw for more than 5000 yards. This year, 6 are on pace to do so. Ten years ago, 4 players tossed for more than 4000 yards. This year, 15 are on pace to do so. Ten years ago, 17 players passed 3000 yards. This year, 27 players are on pace to do so. Ten years ago, nobody threw for 30 TD's. This year, 8 are on pace to do so.

Now, there's almost no chance for all of those paces to hold up. Then again, are we sure about that? After all, we're talking about a league where Mark Sanchez is on pace to top 4000 yards. We're talking about a league where Captain Inaccuracy (Cam Newton) is on pace for more than 5000 yards. Here's a few other gems to think about:

Rex Grossman - 3956YDS 24TDS
Jason Campbell - 3712YDS 16TDS
Chad Henne - 3472YDS 16TDS
Andy Dalton - 3472YDS 16TDS
Tarvaris Jackson - 3384YDS 20TDS
Alex Smith - 3181YDS 16TDS

(One note: After tonight, Josh Freeman could be on pace for 4000+ yards. That would make half the league's QB's on pace.)

After four weeks, the mandate of the NFL is clear. Throw with impunity. Any team with any crappy QB can compete in today's NFL. The Redskins are 3-1 with Rex Grossman for goodness sakes!

That brings me back to the Cowboys collapse. Still down 30-17 early in the 4th quarter, Matt Stafford launched a pass up towards Calvin Johnson, who was blanketed in the end zone by 3 defenders. Johnson, seemingly playing the part of a comic book super hero, leaped up and hauled in the TD amidst the group of Cowboys around him. It was an amazing catch for sure. In my lifetime, Johnson and Randy Moss are the only two receivers I've ever seen who are capable of making that catch. Along with his incredible pair of hands, his overwhelming size, and his out of control leaping ability; Johnson has the NFL to thank for that catch. In fact, he should probably write a thank you note to Roger Goodell, because that simply isn't caught 10 years ago, when you were actually allowed to "seperate the ball from teh receiver." Nowadays, you just have to let the receiver go for the catch, or else it's a penalty.

This, folks, is the new NFL. No lead is safe, no record will be left unbroken. This is an NFL where Matt Stafford can chuck a stupid pass into triple coverage and get bailed out. This is an NFL where career journeyman like Ryan Fitzpatrick can play like Dan Marino. This is an NFL that more closely resembles a typical game of Madden then a football game from the early 90's.

You know what...I don't like it.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not blaming our loss on the NFL. If Calvin hadn't made that catch then they probably would have scored a few plays after. The Cowboys lost because Tony Romo pulled the biggest choke job since Napolean's invasion of Russia. Not surprisingly, Tony and I are divorced. Again. Anyways, the point is that the rule changes are having a clear impact league wide and plays like Calvin's TD should NOT be happening.

For most of its existence, the NFL has been all about the run. The old mantra was that in order to win you had to be able to run and to stop the run. That held true for decades. Obviously, that brand of football has slowly eroded, replaced with high octane passing games. I'm good with change, and I agree that the NFL is better when passing is more important than running. This current brand of football, though, goes way too far. The run game is almost obsolete at this point, as is evidenced by the Packers Super Bowl run last season. Football is a physical game. Taking that away from the game, at least to me, is not a good thing. Why is it good to mandate that defenders must allow receivers to come down with the ball? How is that football?

For a variety of reasons, I'm assuming that this current brand of football is here to stay. To be quite honest, that depresses me somewhat. I love football, but I'm having a hard time accepting this. In lieu of a neat, clean conclusion to this piece, I simply want to ask what you think. Do you like the rule changes? Do you think the NFL is better now? Or, like me, do you think things are out of control? Please, share your opinions on this matter and let's get some discussion rolling.


  1. No. I don't. Unfortunately, like you, I don't see even the most obvious of them being undone...Even beyond what you said, by and large, special teams are obsolete and as we compile the rules that have followed superstar injuries, so has defense. I would argue that the rules that have followed Tom Brady alone have polluted the game (though I am quite content to allow him to carry one of my fantasy teams single-handedly this year)...just imagine the rules that would spring up if another Joe Theisman injury occurred! The sad reality is that it requires such impeccable talent as one Mark Sanchez to put together a quality defensive game in today's National Football League (sorry, I had to)

  2. To your point, the function of defense right now is to force turnovers. While that's always been important, it's never been a central defensive strategy because winning turnover battles is as much a result of luck rather than skill. Unfortunately, it seems like the only viable strategy since it's impossible to string together enough stops against good teams.

    Also, your comment on "another Joe Theisman injury" is interesting. I personally think we're less than 10 years away from football being nearly unrecognizable. I don't know how that will manifest itself, but I fear the worst. Someday, probably quite soon, an injury even worse than Theisman will happen...likely even a death. It will be tragic, it will be gruesome, and it will essentially end football as we know it. After that, you might see flags on QB's, weight limits, further tackling restrictions, and who knows what else. It's getting there. Even without a death, I think the QB position might end up with flags or something similar before too long.

  3. Exhibits A and B... The steelers look defensively inept while cincy has the top ranked D? What!?!?!?!?