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You're about to witness NFL history this season.-FOXs Sportss

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  • You're about to witness NFL history this season.-FOXs Sportss

    Remember how Peyton Manning mangled the Chiefs' defense in last January's playoff game? Chew on this: That offensive deluge could be repeated on a weekly basis this fall against almost any team ó and could even be generated by quarterbacks not named Manning. If you like your Sundays filled with gobs of passing yards and chunks of points, then you'll think you've died and gone to football heaven.

    Prepare yourself for perhaps the greatest outpouring of throwing and scoring ever. Ravens coach Brian Billick already has warned his players to brace for the oncoming revolution. "It will have as much effect on the game as anything we've done in the past five to 10 years," he told them. For sure, we haven't seen this NFL since the mid-1990s, the last time the league said wait a Dan Marino, these defensive folks are pushing the rules too far and disrupting what is designed to be an offense-dominated sport.

    The culprit ó or hero, depending on your football preference ó behind this change? Redskins cornerback Shawn Springs knows. "Thank you, Ty Law," he says with disgust. Because it was Law and his fellow Patriots maulers who beat up those delicate Colts receivers in last season's AFC title game, igniting the flames that led to this potentially high-octane result.

    A review of the final Colts possession reveals at least six downfield penalties that should have been called on New England but weren't. Even Mike Holmgren's daughters, who are casual fans, thought somebody was naughty. After witnessing how rudely the Patriots treated Manning's favorite targets, they asked, "Can they do that?"

    The answer from the NFL is no, they can't. The rulebook outlaws chucking after 5 yards, the grabbing of uniforms downfield and the hooking and redirecting of receivers in the secondary. But dastardly defensive coaches have been pushing the rules for the last half-decade, teaching their players to grab a little material here, chuck and push beyond 5 yards there, maybe hook an opponent just slightly if he has you beaten by a step. Some of this hasn't been subtle. And much of it has not been penalized.

    The Dolphins are even more prolific practitioners of rules manhandling than the Patriots; hardly anyone within the league who doesn't work in South Florida disagrees with Holmgren's assessment that "the last few years you could call holding on Miami's defensive backs almost every play."

    Receivers have become players within a real-life pinball machine, bounced around in the secondary instead of running free, which is what they are supposed to be doing thanks to the league's decision in the late 1970s to outlaw downfield chucks. Last winter, the NFL's competition committee reviewed passing and total yardage statistics from the past 14 years and didn't like the numbers. In 2003, the league produced 400.9 passing yards per game, down almost 24 from the previous season and the lowest average since 1992, when it dipped to 401. Total yards fell from 656.7 in 2002 to 636.6 last season and average points from 43.35 to 41.66.

    "I make no apologies," says committee co-chairman Rich McKay, the Falcons' general manager. "Our committee is always looking to make sure the offense is protected and that the skill players are allowed to play the game, because that is part of what makes this game great. If something is out of whack (statistically), we try to react, and this is something we are trying to react to."

    React, they did. And hey, what's wrong with a little push from Colts G.M. Bill Polian, whose blood pressure never has readjusted after the Patriots debacle? And what's the harm in a little influence from a tape prepared by Mike Martz, who still has scars from a similar battering New England administered to his receivers in Super Bowl 36? The committee ultimately issued an edict to its officiating department: Start calling these rules as written. No new rules, just a reemphasis of some existing standards.

    Beginning this season, game officials have been told to toss a flag every time they see a jersey grabbed and every time they see a receiver chucked beyond 5 yards. Well, not every time, because defensive backs still have some leeway ó but the gap has been tightened so much it'll be difficult for them to consistently neutralize the freedom these new emphases will give offensive players as they roam on their routes.

    At a meeting of NFL coaches last March, Holmgren showed a tape highlighting pass coverage evils practiced by defenders that no longer will be tolerated. Defensive-minded coaches in the room were ready to revolt. Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil wants all of us to think about the Pro Bowl, where defensive backs are not allowed to press.

    "Then you see what happens with a great corner and a great receiver," he says. "The great receiver wins most of the time."

    Even with pressing allowed, this will be the Pro Bowl on a weekly basis. Steve Spurrier quit a year too soon; now the NFL will be practicing pitch and catch with sandlot ease.

    Ordinal out of range

    We've already seen one of the major fallouts from the change. In preseason, flags for defensive holding, illegal contact and pass interference have rained upon game after game, disrupting an already lethargic pace even more and threatening to turn entertainment into a march of penalties. It's reinforcing Lions coach Steve Mariucci's greatest fear.

    "To me, the game has too many delays already," he says. "We don't need more penalties, more ways to stop a game. But that is where we are headed."

    So, Falcons receiver Pearless Price, what do you think of this new emphasis? Price, smiling one of the biggest smiles you'll ever see: "I pray they won't back off and change their minds. Those guys hold on every play. It is bad. You have the lazy guys who are going to find a way to cheat, and it's been going on for years. Now you will see who really can play cornerback."

    So, Texans cornerback Aaron Glenn, your response? "It is a joke. We're at the point where we can't touch these guys, and they are the ones who are doing the pushing and shoving and grabbing. The referees have to take a stand and not call all this. It is ridiculous; it puts refs at a disadvantage where they can't do anything, and it will produce a game of robots. The league has to back off."

    Don't tell that to Mike Pereira, the NFL's director of officials.

    "We started calling all this on the first play of the Hall of Fame game, and it is going to end with the last play of the Super Bowl," he says. "We have been accused of letting up in the past once we got into the regular season, but the committee has told us what they want this season, and it is going to be officiated all the way through."

    Keep this in mind. After the 1993 season, the competition committee gave officials similar mandates regarding enforcement of downfield rules. The result: average passing yards rose from 401 in 1993 to 427 in 1994 to 441 in 1995, highest ever in league history. Average yards per game jumped from 621 in 1993 to 635 in 1994 to 657.8 in 1995. And average points increased from 37.4 in 1993 to 40.5 in 1994 to 43 in 1995; only 2002 (43.3) has surpassed that mark since then.

    This is a sport involving superior athletes capable of performing at exceptional levels. No one wants this artistry dulled by ticky-tack officiating. So some rules haven't been strictly enforced; instead, over the years, interpretations have popped up, giving game officials guidelines under which to function. In particular, two words ó materially affect ó have been linked to downfield calls: Does the action by either the offensive or defensive player materially affect the other's ability to finish a play? Was the action enough?

    That's how, since 1994, an ever-increasing gray area has sprung up, clouding illegal contact and downfield holding, which are called before the pass is thrown, and pass interference, which is flagged after the ball is in the air. A slight tug of a jersey became a bigger tug, particularly in press coverage; Martz has plays on video in which defenders held on for 10 yards, yet no penalty was called. And the chuck beyond 5 yards? If the receiver didn't seem to be knocked off his route, if he didn't break stride, then it became a no-call even 8 or 9 yards into the secondary. So defensive backs learned to "squat," or plant themselves, in the path of receivers, either drawing contact or sliding as the receiver moved, using hands or body or both to nudge and redirect the offensive player. It became routine in zones; before passing off the receiver to a teammate, the defender reached out and slightly shoved his opponent. More and more of these actions were unpenalized.

    "The more physical you're allowed to be at corner downfield, then the less skill you need, and then you don't have to pay those corners all the (big) money anymore," says Martz. "Things have just gotten so permissive. The rule says after 5 yards you can't hold him up. Now you actually must use the skills that you've been given to cover the guy."

    That's simple for an offensive coach to say.

    "It is easy to play receiver, but it's a bear to play defensive back," says Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. "Just don't penalize my players for doing one of the most difficult things at the highest level of pro sports. I have no problem with (penalizing) the jersey grabbing. We can stop that. But lots of times, from 10 to 12 yards out, a defensive back will walk in toward the receiver and then start backpedaling. My issue is, if I maintain my space, I have a right to that space, and if the receiver runs into me with intent to contact, the foul should be on him. But it is called against us too much, and that is unfair. I could play receiver right now and get a penalty every time and move the chain, I guarantee you. And that is not right."

    Pereira says his officials will look at games differently this year.

    "It will be like basketball, which officiates defense first," he says. "It will be like block/charge. If the defensive back is set and doesn't slide and the offensive guy deliberately runs into the guy, then it's against him. But defensive backs have been squatting at 7 yards for a 9-yard out and colliding with the guy before he can make his cut. The rule says you can't impede, restrict or redirect the offensive guy in anyway. If you choose to play that kind of squat-and-collision defense and you initiate the contact, we are going to call it."

    Those defensive backs and linebackers who have been surviving by holding and chucking even just a tad are in for some kind of hurt.

    "I've seen a deterioration in technique as guys have gotten away with more," says Colts coach Tony Dungy, "and they will be affected." Springs has an answer. "You just have to have good technique, really sharpen it," he says. "Guys are going to have to be disciplined. It will force us to be on top of our game. Either that, or it will be either more flags or more touchdowns this year."

    Falcons coach Jim Mora says defenders "will have to be more artful around the ball and the receiver. And the shorter defensive backs will be exposed. They won't be able to use their hands, and now receivers will get better separation and quarterbacks can see them better."

    Coaches are mixed about whether it will be more difficult to play lots of man coverage, but it certainly will affect cover 2, which has become the league's preeminent secondary coverage. In that scheme cornerbacks have been cheating most, chucking beyond 5 yards, and safeties have been riding and tugging and redirecting extensively downfield.

    Of course, receivers are ready to party. Teams have been searching frantically for big receivers who could stand up against the increasingly physical play in the secondary. This will make them even more dangerous.

    "Do you think anyone can stop me going across the middle if they can't touch me?" asks Terrell Owens of the Eagles. "That's all they've been doing for years, holding and grabbing. It's been ridiculous."

    But this new emphasis also could herald the return of Fun Bunch-type guys, the quick, little receivers who have been thumped and trampled almost into extinction. Now, they can scamper around, unimpeded by these defensive bullies. You also should expect a major difference in how inside receivers are covered, particularly tight ends, who have been battered by linebackers and hammered by safeties such as the Patriots' Rodney Harrison and the Cowboys' Roy Williams.

    Billick, who has spent his first five years with the Ravens trying to fashion a consistent passing game, should be overjoyed with the new emphasis. But he is conflicted. His current team depends heavily on the running game and stout defense. What's a coach to do?

    "If your team is built on offense as the primary weapon, life is good right now," he says. "To those who play great defense and run it, life is a whole lot different, and not for the better. They can't take this so far that you can't play the game on defense. I think everyone is concerned about the ramifications, and we have to find that working ground where we can reinvigorate the passing game and scoring but not encumber the game in a way that it is counterproductive."

    Tell that to Rams wideout Torry Holt. "I think a whole lot of receivers will have huge years this season," he says. "Defense has been winning in the secondary for some years now. Nothing wrong with it being our turn now."

  • #2
    Re: You're about to witness NFL history this season.-FOXs Sportss

    Yeah, lots of receivers might have some big years, but let's also look on the other end of the field. If this becomes a big deal, cover cornerbacks will become a coveted commodity. Defenses will need to put an emphasis on being stacked in the secondary, as some (including teams in Randy Moss's NFC North and the Rams' pass happy NFC West) have already tried to do.


    • #3
      Re: You're about to witness NFL history this season.-FOXs Sportss

      What the Patriots were able to get away with against the Colts last year (and, in a similar vein, to the Rams in 2001), was a disgrace. Coverage skills should not include the use of the GI Joe Kung-Fu grip.


      • #4
        Re: You're about to witness NFL history this season.-FOXs Sportss

        Another by-product of this will be that WR and (to a lesser degree) TE, as well as CB will be getting smaller. Speed will be stressed over size. What good is a WR to have the strength of a David Boston anymore? Jerry Rice may play until he's 50 now. Why should a CB be as physical as Ty Law if they are only going to draw flags? Looks like Deion picked a good time to come back. Both sides of our passing game are built on speed. 190 lb burners at WR and 195 lb burners at CB.

        With the exception of Manu, this is nothing but good for the Rams.
        The more things change, the more they stay the same.


        • #5
          Re: You're about to witness NFL history this season.-FOXs Sportss

          I'm going to need a better opening line than this if I am expected to wade all the way through the piece.


          Related Topics


          • RamDez
            Touchy rule
            by RamDez
            Touchy rule

            Crackdown on defenses offers to give receivers a lift
            Monday, August 09, 2004
            Tony Grossi Plain Dealer Reporter
            Nothing sends ripples of angst throughout the NFL quicker than a drop in offense.

            "Everyone likes to see the ball flung around and point totals high," Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher said.

            He was speaking of fans as well as high-placed executives in the NFL.

            Show a group of NFL officials a downward trend in points or yards and brace for a rules change. Or in this season's case, a "point of emphasis."

            In March, league officials examined a 9.2 percent drop in passing yards - from 441.6 a game in 1995 to 400.9 last season. The latter total was the smallest in 11 years.

            Coming on the heels of New England's mugging of Indianapolis receivers in the AFC Championship Game, the league declared a crackdown on illegal contact and defensive holding.

            Game officials are touring NFL training camps this summer to emphasize to coaches and players that the rules will be strictly enforced. That means no more pulling, grabbing, chucking, knocking - anything to bump a receiver off his route - 5 yards beyond the line of scrim- mage.

            "It's going to be a huge topic [this summer]," said Mike Pereira, NFL director of officiating.

            "We want the offensive receivers to be able to run an unrestricted route beyond 5 yards, and we don't want him hooked or grabbed when he tries to get off the line of scrimmage."

            Tweaking rules in the NFL is a rite of spring. No professional sports league spends more time analyzing and refining its game than the NFL. The decline in passing yards became the statistical reference for the latest crackdown.

            But the lightning rod surely was the AFC Championship Game in January.

            Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning rode into the game following two consecutive passing performances in the playoffs that were nearly perfect statistically. New England promptly forced four interceptions in a 24-14 drubbing that canceled the coronation of Manning as the league's passing king.

            The reason for Manning's ineffectiveness was a Patriots' defense that physically mauled his receivers - and got away with it.

            "You watched it on television and you thought, 'Gee,' " said Seattle coach Mike Holmgren. "My daughters said, 'Dad, can they do that?' Well, yeah, they did."

            Two plays near the end of the game stood out. Manning was within a touchdown of tying the score at the two-minute warning. On consecutive plays, Manning's passes for tight end Marcus Pollard fell incomplete after New England linebacker Roman Phifer impeded Pollard beyond the 5-yard zone.

            After the game, Pollard made a comment that resonated in the ears of league rule-makers.
            -08-09-2004, 03:09 PM
          • Nick
            Clayton: Cracking Down on Corners
            by Nick
            Illegal Contact Enforcement Could Have Huge Impact
            By John Clayton

            The hardest thing to figure about the 2004 season is the impact of the NFL's desire to enforce contact or interference penalties after five yards.

            Some people you talk to tell you the impact will be minimal. Those are the same people who misjudged the impact of Charlie Weis's short passing offense on the opening years of the new millennium. The Patriots have won two Super Bowls despite not having marquee wide receivers. I still can't forget calling defensive coordinators before the 2002 season asking about how to defense the Weis's offense. Some pointed out Tom Brady's shaky numbers down the stretch run of 2001 and said that New England's short-passing attack was nothing to worry about. Guess what, other teams copied some of the Patriots ideas and the impact was huge.

            The same can be said about tougher enforcement of illegal contact by defensive backs. In many ways, it's the most significant rule adjustment in about a decade but the weird part is the rule hasn't actually changed. Now it's just going to be enforced to the letter of the law.

            Competition Committee members Mike Martz, Mike Holmgrem and others were appalled at the number of replays featuring cornerbacks mugging receivers and getting away with it. They had watched it with their own players during the season, but to see the extent of it league-wide was troubling.

            To come to the defense of the officials calling the plays, pass interference and illegal contact calls were enforced on a reasonably consistent basis during the regular season. After all, fans don't like to watch yellow flag after yellow flag being thrown. Football is a contact sport no doubt. The 238 interference calls worked out to an average of .93 a game, not even close to the 310 called in fewer games in 1998. Illegal contacts penalties were a manageable 79, .31 a game.

            Then came the playoffs. Both championship games became Fantasy Island for cornerbacks. The Patriots cornerbacks squat on receiver routes at about 10 yards and get very physical. Colts receivers and tight ends had their jerseys held and their bodies bumped. The situation in Philadelphia wasn't as bad, but Panthers cornerbacks bragged about how physical they were against the Eagles receivers in the NFC Championship.

            The Committee asked the league officiating department if officials were calling penalties differently in the playoffs. To their surprise, they received an honest answer. They were. The league knows ratings are at their highest during the playoffs. Fans don't like flags. So, cornerbacks had to clearly violate the rules to draw them.

            What was determined was the illegal contact rule was poorly worded. In 1994, the Competition Committee grew tired of cornerbacks mugging receivers and put in new wording to open up the receiver's ability to get...
            -07-22-2004, 11:49 PM
          • Nick
            Defending the Read-Option
            by Nick
            Defending the Read-Option
            There's no simple solution for the NFL's latest offensive trend, but after an offseason of searching, defensive coaches may finally have some answers

            By Chris Brown on July 25, 2013

            Offenses attack; defenses react. This is a truism, but it's a truism on which almost all sports strategy is built. In the NFL today, no tactic more pressingly requires a swift, strong reaction than the so-called "read-option."

            Last fall, these plays ó common in college football but relatively new to the NFL ó brought havoc. As one SEC offensive line coach put it, watching NFL teams try to defend the read-option was like stepping into a time machine: The poor technique, naive tactics, and ugly results were like seeing college defenses try to defend these plays, but a decade ago.1

            The solace for the league's defensive coordinators is that the history of football is littered with strategies that were unstoppable one day and obsolete the next. And, despite last season's missteps, the NFL's premier defensive coaches aren't being shy about the future of the read-option: They don't think it has one. "That's the flavor of the month," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin declared, adding, "We look forward to eliminating it." Their reasoning is simple: Stopping the read-option is mission-critical for every coaching staff. "Everybody, like us, is going to do their due diligence in the offseason," said Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano at the NFL owners meetings. "We feel very confident from a defensive perspective that we can come up with some scheme and we can get those schemes taught."

            These pronouncements are bold, but, until they're backed up on the field, they're empty. NFL coaches have been understandably vague about just how they plan to stop the read-option. Even with all of last fall to focus on answers, teams still struggled, which led to the question of where solutions could be found.

            The most common method of research was visiting with college defensive coaches who have spent much of the last decade locked in life-or-death struggles with the read-option. To stop the read-option, ostensibly a "college" scheme, NFL coaches have gone back to school. Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy sent his entire staff to visit with Kevin Sumlin's staff at Texas A&M, and Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers separately spent time with Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, who faced Colin Kaepernick and his Pistol Offense for years at Hawaii and then Utah State. I've been told of visits from NFL coaches ó some official, some very off-the-record ó to schools as diverse as Stanford, Oklahoma State, Clemson, Alabama, Vanderbilt, BYU, and Florida State, where the primary topic of discussion was how to stop, or at least slow, the read-option.

            Pro coaches can spend as much time as they'd like searching...
            -07-26-2013, 11:43 AM
          • Goldenfleece
            Over/Underrated Teams in the Preseason
            by Goldenfleece
            This time of year everybody can find reasons why their team is going to be a contender in the upcoming season, but I had some time on my hands, so I thought I'd take another look at a few of the teams with high expectations and see what they have really done to improve their teams in the offseason. Feel free to disagree; these are just one fan's opinions. I left the Rams off the underrated list because I've obviously got a bias there. So without further ado, here's my take on the most overrated/underrated teams in mid-August:

            Most Overrated:

            NY Giants

            Why they're hyped: The Giants have a Manning at the helm, and he's got weapons: Burress, Toomer, Shockey, and Barber. On defense, the team has some great pass rushers including Osi Umenyiora, Michael Strahan, and linebacker Lavar Arrington, along with first rounder Mathias Kiwanuka. Will Demps should be an upgrade at FS.

            Why they won't live up to it: First, the defense. They lost 2 defensive tackles in free agency. Clancy and Allen were not exactly worldbeaters at their position, but the Giants don't have proven talent to replace them. William Joseph started 10 games at the right DT spot and had 2 sacks; he's the pass-rushing DT. Looking at their roster, I can't figure out who is supposed to be starting next to him. Fred Robbins maybe? Robbins couldn't even hold down the backup job last season. At corner, they added Sam Madison but lost Will Allen who is not only younger but has also put up better numbers in recent years. It looks as though Will Peterson will be replaced on the other side by last year's nickelback, Corey Webster. Webster has shown some promise, but it's still his first year as a starter. Arrington has a reputation as a free lancer who gets out of position trying to make the big play; it has also been said he can't handle coverage responsibilities. The Giants should still be at least a little better at WLB and FS but worse at both DT spots and both corners.

            On offense, Eli looked worse towards the end of the season, throwing 4 TDs and 7 ints in 5 games in December. He looked shaky in the playoffs, too, throwing for a paltry 113 yards, 3 ints, and no TDs while taking 4 sacks and coughing up a fumble in a loss to the Panthers. Tiki on the other hand had a remarkable season, but age is a factor here. Take the example of Curtis Martin who led the league in rushing yards with 1,697 yards in 2004. Then he hit the wall. His rushing average the next season fell from 4.6 yards/carry to 3.3, and his rushing total was nearly a thousand yards less at 735. Maybe it'll happen this year, maybe it won't...but one of these days age is going to catch up with Barber, and when it does, it'll happen fast. It's probably not a good sign that he has talked about retiring after this season. Barber has said, "We'll see how my body holds up. Last year was a grind for me. Even though I played great, I battled to be healthy. We'll see...
            -08-16-2006, 06:05 AM
          • MauiRam
            Cosell Talks: The Evolving Chess Match ..
            by MauiRam
            by Greg Cosell

            With training camps opening in less than a month, Iíve begun to think about what I expect to see in the 2012 NFL season. Iím speaking more broadly, in terms of the continuing growth of the game. Itís become axiomatic to say the NFL is a passing league. The numbers certainly verify this statement, but thereís more to it than that. I want to drill down deeper and put a fine focus on the transformative relationship between offensive concepts and defensive reaction/adjustment.

            I remember watching the opening game of the 2011 season, a Thursday nighter between the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers. And I particularly recall Darren Sproles catching a 36-yard pass on a third-and-6 in the first quarter. The quick breakdown of the play: The Saints had three wide receivers, tight end Jimmy Graham and Sproles on the field; the Packers matched up with nickel personnel, playing man coverage with LB Desmond Bishop on the outside versus Graham and LB A.J. Hawk on Sproles offset in the backfield. From the backfield, Sproles ran an angle route in the middle of the field and left Hawk in the dust. That play stayed in my memory bank. In so many ways, it crystallized the tactical history of the NFL over 50 years, and provided a framework for where I believe itís headed.

            First, letís take a step back and look at the evolution of the NFL passing game, dating back to the 1960s. This is the CliffsNotes version Ö

            The NFL as a whole took its cue from Vince Lombardi: two backs, a tight end on the line of scrimmage and two wide receivers. A minimal number of plays run over and over with great execution. It was a game of physical toughness predicated on running the ball on offense, and stopping the run on defense, exclusively out of 4-3 fronts. The pass was used in desperate down-and-distance situations, as a reactive measure, never as a proactive tactic to attack and break down defenses.

            What followed were the innovations of Don Coryell and Bill Walsh. Their philosophical foundations derived from Sid Gillman, at the time the head coach of the AFLís San Diego Chargers. Gillman was not beholden to the NFL model. He wanted skilled players in space to force the defense to defend as much area as possible. He envisioned a big-play, explosive offense, with the pass serving as the main catalyst. That was the antithesis of Lombardiís approach (control the ball, move the chains). Coryell and Walsh took their lead from Gillman and further expanded the thought process of football. They were creative and imaginative, seeing the pass as a means of limitless possibility and choreographed beauty. It was Coryell who first recognized the tremendous value of a tight end with Kellen Winslow, who could align anywhere in the formation and essentially be deployed as another wide receiver. Walsh saw offensive football as a wide palette of strategy and tactics, more of an art form than a game of brute strength...
            -07-09-2012, 12:14 AM