Tuesday, 26 September 2017

THREE THOUGHTS ON THE NEW SEASON: MY LOST NFL PROGRAMME PIECE

As many of you know, I work on the NFLlive every Sunday night and the NFL show Tuesday nights, both for Talksport radio. The host is Nat Coombs, who has also been my partner on Channel 5, Channel 4, the BBC and of course in the Americarnage podcast. Last week, before the kneeling story broke, the NFL office in London asked us to offer some thoughts on the 2017 season, to appear in the programme for this Sunday's Wembley game between the Dolphins and the the Saints.

I wrote my three and passed them over to Gnat, who added his and sent them along. A few days later, the editorial director informed him that the essay wouldn't appear in the programme after all; there would be just a short piece about our shows on Talksport.

My part of the piece was concerned mostly with the macro-level of the game; I was looking for what I thought might be longer term trends recognizable this season. So I thought I'd post my part of the story here, while it still has some relevance. You can check for yourself to see whether the points make sense, and more importantly whether they actually do establish themselves as trends.

IRON MIKE'S THREE THOUGHTS ON THE 2017 SEASON (after two weeks!)


1. THE QUARTERBACK SHORTAGE

It's actually a more complicated issue, because it's really more of an offensive shortage. A lack of quality QBs is exacerbated by a lack of road-ready offensive linemen, running backs who can't pass block, and receivers who burst on the scene because they can win one-on-one match-ups, but can't necessarily read defenses or run the complete route-tree, though as the NFL does move toward a more basketball-like one on one downfield game, more rookie receivers can make an impact. And linemen playing in some pass-happy systems have trouble adjusting to the complexities of NFL line play; often they've played almost no time in a three point stance.

This is down to the growing gap between concepts in college football and the NFL. Although the pros have adapted some of college's recent offensive innovations, spreading the field to find one-on-one matchups, the NFL is too balanced, and teams too talented, to go lock stock and barrel to the various spread systems eliminating from college, just as the NFL never went wishbone when that was all the rage in college 40 years ago. But what is happening is college offenses are featuring offenses whose quarterbacks don't learn the complex reads and don't need arms as powerful and more importantly accurate as the NFL demands. There is a need for quality quarterbacks; there are not 32 quality starters, and there are precious few quality back ups. Yet Colin Kaepernick remains unemployed.

2. A NEW SORT OF PARITY

Given item one above, the concept of parity seems to be changing. Teams who can build long-term, develop players while they are on the roster and fill their rosters with role-players who fit their system have a huge advantage. What do the Steelers, Ravens, Seahawks, Packers and Patriots, to name the most obvious year-in and year-out contenders have in common? Relative stability in the front office and coaching front. You need to understand your system, coach your system, and play the salary cap game well, but it gives you a huge advantage. You also need to have the security to make some mistakes.

The other huge advantage, of which Seattle and Dallas currently can take advantage, is being able to get a rookie quarterback who can deliver play worth $20 million per year on a rookie salary cap budget. Paradoxically, this works against the idea of parity, because it makes the concept of bringing a QB along within the system more wasteful of financial resources with each year your rookie QB doesn't start. So the impetus is to throw your rookie, who may give you a better chance of winning anyway when your starter is a journeyman, into the breach before he's been coached into readiness, and risk, on a bad team, his developing David Carr syndrome, bad habits if not gun shyness after taking beating after beating.


3. VIDEO GAME FOOTBALL

Between Madden, Fantasy Football, and Red Zone, the NFL in the digital age offers a much wider set of entertainment options than just the game at the stadium or on television. But it has, to some extent, changed the sense of what the audience expects from its football. Watching the amazing 49ers-Rams shootout on week three's Thursday Night, a combination of the usual Thursday short-week sloppiness and tiredness, combined with some remarkable throwing from the two unheralded passers, and bullish running from both teams, I thought immediately how this was the best advertisement, in a way, for the 2017 season, and an answer to the many critics who were already trying to write the year off after the first two weeks. Yes, in their colour rush jerseys, the Rams looked like animated bananas, and at times the game looked like Arena ball, so in one sense it was like a Madden game played out in full. But it offered sceptics everything the NFL promises in a game, not just on Red Zone, on any given Sunday. Or Monday. Or Thursday.

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