This offseason, Shutdown Corner's Frank Schwab and Eric Edholm will look into what is overrated and underrated in all aspects of the NFL. We fully expect your angry emails and comments that are sure to follow.
OVERRATED AND UNDERRATED: Fan complaint
Eric Edholm: "The play-calling stinks!"
It’s a fan’s rite of passage to complain about the coordinator’s play calling. Defense, offense, doesn’t matter. Run the ball! Throw it! Blitz! Ah, if it was only that simple. There are a hundred or so factors that go into the success of any given play, and yes, the play call matters. You sniff out an overload blitz from the blind side? Screen to the front side. Offense motions the back out of the backfield? Let’s send the house!
But there’s a ton more nuance than that.
You can dial up the perfect offensive play against the defense that is called, but if the left guard trips while pulling or the tight end stumbles in his route or the quarterback short-arms the throw, the play won’t work. That’s why Bill Walsh was such a perfectionist and why repetition and drilling were his biggest assets: He knew that a perfectly executed play would function well against almost any defensive look.
I hear it from fans all the time: We were not aggressive enough. It even has seeped into coaches’ heads and gets spit back out of their mouths. Have you ever heard a new coordinator say they are going to try the passive route to offense or defense? No. But it’s just lip service.
The Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks were pretty vanilla —offensively and defensively — last season. The same offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell, who was ripped in Minnesota for being too conservative with his play-calling with the Vikings was lauded for the way he handled a young quarterback and offensive line and wide receiver groups that often played shorthanded. Funny how a guy becomes a genius when Russell Wilson is his quarterback.
If a team runs the ball on third and 10 every time, you have earned the right to yell about play-calling. If it throws downfield every other pass to slow, unsure receivers, have at them. But normally it’s like complaining that there’s a chip in the plate on which you’re served rotten food. Kind of missing the point a bit, right?
Frank Schwab: "Play the backup QB!"
I know, I know, you’re upset that the starter threw that interception. And now you’re booing and screaming for the backup to go in. Here’s a secret: In almost every case, the backup quarterback is just the devil you don’t know. Yet.
There are many backup quarterbacks who make quite a living as a backup … that is, until they have to go into a game, and show they’re dustier than that sock that fell underneath your dryer a few years ago. Chris Simms might still be making a really good NFL living if he didn’t have to play for the 2009 Broncos. The two games he played showed there were better options out there. The worst thing that can happen to most backups is they actually have to play. And there’s a reason the backup quarterback is the backup. The coach spends his life with these players, or at least thinking about them. It’s pretty rare that he’s playing the wrong guy.
I know you think you have 1999 Kurt Warner or 2001 Tom Brady carrying that clipboard, but you probably don’t. Just ride it out with the starter. There’s a reason he’s the starter.
EE: "Go for it on fourth down!"
There is a savvy element of new media members who are fourth-down truthers, and they have made me a convert. I was birthed from the old school where you went for it on anything but fourth-and-1 situations only when necessary, and only on the opponent’s side of the field.
Oh, but I was so much older then … I am younger than that now.
Aggressive coaches such as Bill Belichick and Mike Smith always will be prone to criticism when their teams don’t make it, and the Patriots and Falcons have had some big ones at the ends of games. But we don’t remember the dozens of makes that allowed them to be successful.
Going for it on fourth down is not an act of desperation, it’s an act of aggression. It sends a message: Hey, we think we can get this on your defense. We’re not interested in punting it back to you here. If a defense stops a team on fourth-and-3 from midfield in the second quarter, is it the end of the world? No.
It’s easy (and shortsighted) to look at last year’s statistics and say, "Aha! The three teams with the most fourth-down attempts — the Browns, Jaguars and Buccaneers — combined to make up three of the seven worst teams in 2013." But what those numbers don’t reveal is when they were going for it. The four teams with the highest fourth-down conversion rate last season — the Broncos, Chargers, Panthers and Packers — all made the postseason. (And eight of the bottom nine in conversion rate missed the postseason.)
In fact, there’s no better team to display this point than the Panthers. Hey, sure, the “Riverboat” nickname never was fully embraced by Ron Rivera. But it was his direct philosophical shift following a horrific Week 2 loss to the Bills that helped turn the Panthers’ season around. Rivera opted to kick a field goal up three points on a fourth-and-1 with 1:41 left against a gassed defense, and then the Panthers allowed a game-winning touchdown.
It never should have gotten to that point. The difference between three and six points means nothing. Rivera should have called for a run by Mike Tolbert (who had just rumbled four yards on third-and-5) against a Bills defense that had been on the field 79 plays up to that point.
Following that loss, Rivera started going for it, and the Panthers finished the season a boggling 10-of-13 on fourth-down conversions, many of which tilted games in their favor. They went 5-0 in one-score games from that point on.
If teams opened their minds more to going for it on fourth down and not being so bent on flipping field position (For, what, 30 or 40 more yards? That’s two or three passes) they’d find that they could take control of games and not leave it in the hands of a two-minute prevent defense.
FS: "NFL games are way too expensive!"
The parking price is what always gets me. Drive by any parking area on an NFL Sunday (not necessarily a parking lot mind you, but maybe just a grassy area) and it’ll usually cost the price of a pretty good bone-in ribeye steak just to leave your car for a few hours. The average cost of parking, according to TeamMarketing.com, for NFL teams in 2013 was $30.57. That’s a pretty steep cost before you even get out of the car.
Anyone who has been to a game recently knows it doesn’t get any better after that. TeamMarketing.com estimated the average cost for a family of four (and they’re fairly conservative on what they factor into the price) is $459.65 per game. Try doing that 10 times if you’re a season-ticket holder. Paying a few hundred for a meaningless preseason game just to line the owner’s pockets is especially maddening.
I understand why three of four playoff games on wild-card weekend last season didn’t sell out until just before the blackout deadline – it’s freaking expensive to go to a game. The NFL makes no bones about bleeding the fans dry for every dollar it can. Hey, it’s a business. There’s still supply and demand at work, and nothing is more in demand than the NFL. But a tipping point will come. The home experience for an NFL game is pretty darn good. It’s fun to go to a game, but by staying home you’re going to save a lot of money, see the game better on your TV, never wait in line for the bathroom and save yourself a few hours fighting traffic before and after the game. You won’t even need to pay $30 extra for parking.
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