Three yards and a cloud of dust. Oh, how I miss you, and I never thought I would ever say something like that. So many years spent yelling at the TV as if I had access to the coach’s ear, “Please throw the ball every now and then. It’s third and three, and the defense is stacking the line because they know you are going to run the ball. The only variation is whether or not you are feeling frisky enough to run opposite the strong side of the formation, and that is not good enough. Argh!!.” The inevitable run happens, and the impending punt is on its way. Fun times all around. Anyone else remember those days? Well, now teams are passing on third and three. Heck, they are passing on third and one! It’s like overloading on dessert before eating the main course. Lots of fluff with no real substance. Plus, get ready for the sugar coma or otherwise known as the “Passing Coma”.
Passing is so standard these days that mediocre quarterbacks are posting passing numbers that would make past Hall of Fame Quarterbacks drool like a man breaking a year long fast with a night out at the Outback Steakhouse. Average quarterbacks are easily passing for more than 3500 yards. Does anyone know how many times Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman passed for more than 3500 yards? Zero. Oh, he came close in 1992, passing for 3445 yards on 473 attempts. That’s Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman, not some no name scrub forever relegated to holding a clipboard. That passing output grants passage to rank number 15 in today’s NFL, which is Mark Sanchez’s spot. Yes indeed, Mark Sanchez chalked up 3474 yards with 543 attempts. Also, it is worth mentioning that the Jets thought so much of this output that they brought in another quarterback that actually put up less passing numbers in a pass first league. Here are some more numbers: Josh Freeman 3,592, Joe Flacco 3,610, and Ryan Fitzpatrick 3,832. These, super*cough* quarterbacks ho hummed their way to more passing yards than the best year Troy put up. Reminder: Troy Aikman is a Hall of Fame quarterback. Maybe this is perfectly reasonable in a league where third and one is considered a passing down, or first and goal at the five brings on three straight passing plays.
What in the wide, wide, world of sports is going on here? Why the paradigm shift from a run first league?
The NFL has declared war on defenses. Why would anyone want to play on that side of the ball? People think the ten commandments are confining. Well, take a gander at what defenses can’t do anymore. Wait, that takes too long. I’ll sum it up. Can’t touch the quarterback. Can’t touch the receiver. There ya go, defensive coaches. Have fun with that. The only offensive players that are fair game are running backs and lineman. Sorry guys, the NFL feels it can find big fast guys with no real problem. Running backs don’t have a place in today’s NFL, either. Third and one is now a passing down. And, why not? The risks of passing are almost nil.
To offset the “bad” things that can happen on a pass play (e.g. incomplete, interception, quarterback sack), the NFL grants pass interference, unnecessary roughness, and roughing the passer penalties. Here is the typical play in the NFL, which pretty much says it all as to why teams pass on third and whatever now. Chances are the receiver is wide open as the defense can’t breathe on them anymore. If the planets align, and the defender is there, get ready for a pass interference call or an unnecessary roughness penalty called on the defender trying to, ya know, do his best to separate the receiver from the ball. Then, if that doesn’t work (get ready for the apocalypse), the ultimate spade left to play is the ole’ roughing the passer penalty. The irony is that the NFL is bent on protecting the superstar quarterback, but the only way the defense can get a stop now is to somehow wade through the offensive line holding fest and put some hits on the quarterback. That’s it. Game set and match, and the NFL wonders why quarterbacks get hurt. The NFL is finding out that it reaps what it sows.
So, what’s left? The conversation to the coach is different, “Please run the ball every now and then. I can’t tell if this is Madden or a real game. Make it look like football for a play or two.” Things change, but sometimes change isn’t better.