So, I hear the NFL is a passing league? Well, not for the winners…
Sunday served as a powerful reminder that, despite the efforts of NFL commissioners, or a rules committee, or a football crat of any stripe may try to interfere, the essence of football remains intact. It’s impossible to stop football players and their teams from engaging in a physically intense game when it’s most crucial.
Certainly, the current authorities would have preferred an NFL Sunday Quarterback Skills Challenge or a more controlled “fight” like the one in Anchorman, where nobody touches the face. However, New England, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Houston, and St. Louis were not interested in such an approach.
The AFC sent a powerful message yesterday when two division leaders, the Patriots and the Bengals, deviated from the pass-heavy approach and instead relied on a strong ground game to secure their division leads. Newcomer Patriots running back Jonas Grey bulldozed his way to an impressive 199 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns. Meanwhile, rookie Bengal running back Jeremy Hill revitalized a struggling Cincinnati team, helping them regain control of the AFC North with his 152 rushing yards.
Can’t run the ball, can’t stop the run…can’t win.
What’s the most important football point in all of this? Neither of these groundbreaking performances were not influenced by weather conditions, calendar clichés, or any other external factors. Surprisingly, both of the top AFC teams made their statement by dominating their opponents indoors.
Their decision to run the ball wasn’t compelled by external factors; rather, it was the most effective strategy for winning a football game, even when the path to passing success seemed enticing.
While the Patriots and Bengals demonstrated their strength, the Broncos and Colts, who also lead their respective divisions, took significant steps backward primarily due to their struggles in stopping the run and their inability to establish a running game. Despite Peyton Manning’s impressive nearly 400 passing yards, his team managed just 28 net rushing yards and scored only 7 points. On the opposing side, Rams running back Tre Mason, an explosive rookie, had a career day with 113 rushing yards.
Can’t run the ball, can’t stop the run…can’t win.
While Indianapolis and Denver appeared unexpectedly ineffective, the teams closely pursuing them in the standings, the Texans and Chiefs, gained crucial ground by relying heavily on their running games. Houston’s running back Albert Blue had a remarkable performance with 156 rushing yards against Cleveland, whereas the Browns struggled to establish their own running game. In a notable victory against the reigning Super Bowl champions, the Seattle Seahawks, the Chiefs leaned on Jamaal Charles, who delivered 159 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns.
In the NFC, the Dallas Cowboys, known as the league’s top rushing team, had their bye week. With a 7-3 record, they share the divisional lead with the Philadelphia Eagles, a team renowned for Chip Kelly’s diverse power-run-oriented offense. Without DeMarco Murray’s breakout performance in 2014, aided by one of the NFL’s finest offensive lines, the Cowboys would have been just another team relying heavily on their quarterback’s passing, which yielded inconsistent outcomes. However, their ability to run the ball has made them a relevant force in the league.
The Cowboys are at the forefront of the NFL’s “I run, therefore I am” club. Whenever there’s a discussion about the recent rule changes that have favored passing in the NFL, the rationale often circles back to two things: A) catering to the fantasy football community, and B) making the game “more exciting.” Frankly, both of these reasons seem illogical to me.
As an example, the Patriots’ game on Sunday primarily revolved around a running game, and it certainly wasn’t a dull, slow-paced affair. In fact, a total of 62 points were scored in the game, and it provided plenty of excitement for fantasy football enthusiasts. This isn’t about personal taste or a matter of opinion; fans don’t show more enthusiasm for 35-yard touchdown passes than they do for 35-yard touchdown runs.
Ultimately, football fans crave genuine football action and not some artificial imitation concocted elsewhere, like on Park Avenue.
Efforts to dilute the essence of the sport in order to promote more passing only contaminate the game, transforming it into something it was never intended to be. As highlighted earlier, Peyton Manning attempted 54 passes on Sunday, yet his team managed to score just 7 points. That isn’t “more exciting.” Duh.
In yesterday’s NFL action, five games couldn’t muster more than 30 total points, despite some of them employing pass-heavy offensive strategies. The truth is, these were the less thrilling or “boring” games.
Sunday served as a timely reminder that those responsible for upholding the “integrity of the game” through rule changes can sometimes be disregarded. Despite their meticulous rulebooks, when it comes to winning divisions, teams must still demonstrate their ability to run the ball and prevent opponents from doing the same. This aspect is beneficial for anyone who has a genuine appreciation for the sport.
Live on, football. Live on…