The NFL product isn't good these days. Outside of the always potent New England Patriots and a small basket of deplorables at the bottom, it's almost impossible to separate the good from the meh to the ugh teams in any given matchup in any given week. Conversations on such matters are being held in the FedEx Field press box and in the stands across the league. They're being said by TV watchers and throughout social media. These two tweets from the Monday and Sunday night games respectively encapsulate the current scene through Week 6.
Before discussing how to make the NFL great again, the obvious question is why the dip?
Free agency. Dearth of good head coaches. Restrictions on contact in practices. Organizational lack of commitment to any long-term plan forces constant roster churning in a sport where it takes time assembling talent. Human cloning not yet available to replicate the Belichick and Brady combo.
These and other factors have turned former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle's goal of league-wide parity into a parody of the glory days.
I'll offer another consideration: Overall quarterback play is bad and yet the NFL's pass-happy trend has these guys throwing more and more and more.
Through six weeks, NFL teams are averaging 10.1 more passes per game than runs. That's up from 9.4 in 2015 and 6.1 in 2010. Last season 15 quarterbacks attempted 500 more passes compared to seven in 2005. The average NFL team rushed 449 times in 2005. Last season, 421.
Here's a look at the evolution of average number of passes, runs and net difference in games across the league going back 30 years. Stats via Pro Football Reference.
2016 (6 weeks): 35.9 passes, 25.8 runs (+10.1)
2015: 35.7, 26.3 (9.4)
2014: 34.9, 26.7 (8.2)
2013: 35.4, 27.1 (8.3)
2012: 34.7, 27.2 (7.2)
2011: 34.0, 27.3 (6.7)
2010: 33.7, 27.2 (6.1)
2009 33.3, 27.5 (5.8)
2008 32.3, 27.6 (4.4)
2007 33.3, 27.3 (6.0)
2006 32.0, 28.2 (3.8)
2001 32.6, 27.6 (5.0)
1996 33.3, 28.3 (5.0)
1986 32.3, 30.2 (2.1)
1976 26.2, 36.9 (-10.7)
Passing is cool and potent. With the current rules heavily favoring the offense, a volume approach makes sense. And yet, perhaps coaches are too focused on their playbook and not enough on the player executing the plays.
Take away any starting quarterback with less than two seasons of NFL experience. How many of the Week 1 starters would you really feel good to great about in terms of being a true winning catalyst each week?
For me, that group includes (in no order) Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck, Philip Rivers, Drew Brees, Cam Newton, Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers despite his current woes. I'll listen if you want to talk me into Eli Manning, Carson Palmer, Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan, but don't dawdle. That's a very, very generous dozen. Reminder: There are 32 NFL teams which means Case Keenum gets a starting gig, Brock Osweiler gets overpaid and Ryan Fitzpatrick gets sooo many chances.
Also, I'm just talking about the starters. If we include all NFL quarterbacks, oh boy. There are not 32 viable starters in the league, but 48 quarterbacks have already thrown at least one pass because things happen.
In terms of importance, QB is the most overly-weighted relative to other positions in all of the four major North American professional sports. That was the case even before the number of passes per game increased. Perhaps if we go back a couple of decades we'll realize the current state of quarterback talent isn't much different (though kids are thrown in earlier and earlier). If so, the difference is the modern game exposes the weaknesses of those under center.
That doesn't mean only future Hall of Famers can be successful. Just ask Mark Rypien and Trent Dilfer. Perhaps the key is less awe with the playbook and more focus on the person executing the plays. In some cases that means a more balanced approach. One NFC East team with a four-game winning streak is a good example.
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