The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Bob McGinn wrote this before a couple of weeks ago NFL games:
All those individual and team records on offense mean nothing to me, at least when compared to marks established a decade or more ago.
Surely, you can see it.
For more than 30 years, owners and executives in the National Football League have been chipping away so defenses, the ugly stepchildren of pro football, cannot hold sway.
The result has been a rewritten rules book that makes it so much easier for players to throw a football, to catch a football and to pass block.
It’s a vastly different game now than it was 10 years ago, let alone 20, 30 or 40. The game isn’t as good, either.
From my vantage point last Sunday, I gazed upon another sellout, excited crowd at Lambeau Field. In my game story, I referred to Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees as giants of the gridiron, and called it an afternoon to remember.
Let me clarify something. I was referring to the way the game is played in 2012. For younger fans, it represented a perfect illustration of what has made the NFL the envy of all forms of entertainment in America.
That is, lots of scoring, lots of yards, practically no defense and few, if any, crushing hits.
When it comes to overall revenue, television ratings, newspaper and digital online coverage, gambling and the proliferation of fantasy football, interest in pro football has never been higher.
But the product on the field, at least to the football purist, continues to lose appeal. …
Rodgers and Brees moved their teams up and down the field. Together, their passing yardage was 765, their completion percentage was .695 and their passing rating was 113.7.
Despite dropping back 56 times, Brees was knocked down just three times, two by sacking. In his 43 dropbacks, Rodgers suffered no sacks.
On the other hand, the two offenses rushed for just 147 yards. …
Forty years ago, offensive linemen tried to pass block by chattering their feet and using mostly their elbows and shoulders. Passing began to take off in 1978 when rules permitted linemen to extend their arms and use open hands.
Today, according to former Packers center and media analyst Larry McCarren, linemen are OK if their hands are inside or outside the chest of the pass rusher as long as they remain frontal. It becomes the judgment call of an official when the rusher gets to the side of the blocker.
If, as a pass rusher, you’re able to extricate yourself and head for the passer, your split-second assignment becomes mental, not physical. Do you hit him, or pull up?
“Guy has the ball,” McCarren said. “I commit to the tackle. Guy throws the ball. How do I decommit to the tackle?” …
The league can talk all it wants about player safety but that falls on deaf ears. The league moved on concussions largely because of media and medical pressure, and most of the new protections are designed for quarterbacks, the men that drive revenue.
The league’s continued push for an 18-game season, the addition of 13 games on Thursday nights and televised on its network, and its stubborn use of unfit replacement officials tell me the league’s actions don’t mesh with its words.
Now the league must be very careful not to legislate out too much violence. This is a society that wants to sit in on Sunday violence, and football is a game of injuries, anyway.
As you watch, if not dote on the NFL, just remember that it has been and could be a better game.
It should be obvious what’s happening here. The NFL is trying to grow its audience. The casual fan likes offense and scoring. The passionate fan may appreciate defense more than non-fans, but the NFL assumes those fans will follow the NFL regardless of how games are, even if, as McGinn does here, they complain about how real football (however they define that) isn’t being played. (Some of those “real football” fans should view games of the ’60s … that is, the American Football League.)
Last season is a perfect example. Thanks, I think, to the lack of preseason minicamps, the amount of scoring in the regular season a year ago was insane. But once the playoffs start, the teams with the best defenses go the farthest. By then, of course, you’ve already hooked the casual fans because of the crazily entertaining regular-season games.