Ed Reed’s comments this past weekend after the Baltimore Ravens loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers brought to light a pretty interesting idea, the NFL cares more about offensive players than defensive players.
Through no fault of their own, defensive players jobs are getting tougher and tougher. More penalties are being called on them, and more of them are being fined for illegal plays. Rules are being shifted to protect offensive players, while cut blocking is still allowed. It was in fact a cut block that knocked out Houston Texans starting linebacker Brian Cushing early in the year. This is a block where the offensive line can go right for the knees of defensive players as long as they aren’t engaged with another defender. Literally, it is in the rules to allow offensive players the opportunity to blow out defensive players knees.
The NFL is just doing what they think is right though, they’re trying to keep the public interested. No one wants to watch the Jets beat the Cardinals 7-6. The average fan and fantasy football player wants as many points scored as possible. Fantasy Football has gotten more and more popular and so people want their players to rack up as many yards and touchdowns as possible. People are no longer enthralled with strong defensive performances, they want to see epic offensive shootouts. That’s why there has been a shift to pass-happy offenses and here are some statistics comparing the 2011 season to the past. Sure they’re not all perfect examples, but they give you a good idea of the shift to offensive games that pile up yardage.
It’s the same reason the NBA penalizes floppers and want their games to be high-scoring as possible. The only game who’s rules are safe is baseball, and that’s because it is America’s past time. Otherwise, the NBA, NFL and NHL have all adjusted their rules in an attempt to get more scoring.
It’s the reason that Soccer and the NHL always struggle in the United States; because the short attention span society cannot appreciate good defense and low-scoring efforts. It’s the reason that the NHL talks about making bigger nets every year and has camps to see what rule changes are plausible because they want to grow the popularity of the game. What no one seemed to tell NHL owners is that locking out the players and canceling hockey games doesn’t grow the popularity of the game. Whoops.
The NHL and Soccer (MLS or EPL) will always be 4th and 5th place in the United States, if not lower, because they can’t compete with the other sports. The MLB has history on its side. The NBA has high scoring and “exciting dunks,” which are always featured on Sportscenter because they know the public is thrilled with these plays even though they’re all generic. The NFL is trying to keep its popularity by increasing the scoring. They want to grow the game and keep the revenue stream growing. Even Nascar is entertaining to many Americans because it is a high-octane sport where accidents can occur at any moment.
Ed Reed even told USA Today, “If they were really so concerned about the violence and the injuries, players getting hurt, answer this question for me: Why is there Thursday Night Football? We played three games in 17 days. Why is there Thursday Night Football? Come on, man.”
He couldn’t be more right. If the NFL truly cared about protecting NFL players, they wouldn’t have games played on Thursday Nights. Playing two games with three days rest in between is a joke. Some teams, like the Lions for example, have even played three games in 11 days, which is just absurd. Players bodies can wear down from such a fierce sport, and it is utterly ridiculous for Commissioner Roger Goodell to tell anyone that Thursday Night football is anything other than a chance to grab the spotlight and make more money. There is a reason that the game is on NFL Network, which is not a part of the basic cable package. They want football fans to be forced to pay more money for cable and get the NFL Network.
Money drives everything in sports, even if it means changing the integrity of the game or traditions. You see it at every level, in every sport and it is an utter shame; it’s almost worse in college sports. I truly wish that Goodell would cut this madness, and stop worrying about growing ratings and popularity of a game that is already a Billion dollar industry. The game is popular enough, and the likelihood that you will grow it significantly enough to notice a change is not worth changing the rules that made the game popular and putting players in jeopardy.
Now Goodell will argue that he wants to protect players safety and is showing that he can do so by eliminating kickoffs, but honestly, he eliminated kickoffs when he allowed kickers to kick off five yards closer than in the past. Sure, guys can still return kicks, but the amount of kicks being returned is infinitely less. They might as well just put the ball at the 20 yard line every time and save everyone the trouble of the TV timeouts after kickoffs. I love watching kickoffs, and I don’t want to see them eliminated from the game, but this would be another move to sacrifice traditional rules to keep the game in a positive light. Critics of the NFL think that the play is far too dangerous to keep in the game, and Goodell probably thinks that eliminating it will help him with his critics.
And while this will change the dynamic of the game, and remove some dynamic playmakers from having an effect on the game, it won’t change the average score of the game. In fact, all it will really do, is give teams a reason to carry fewer NFL players or pay them less, because there won’t be as much of a need for special team players. This could mean that fewer players will have a chance to make it to the NFL and get a shot to make a living out of it.
I would love for the traditional rules to stop changing, but the integrity of the game keeps changing for the sake of money.