Going long is long gone

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NFL ratings are down. If you’re a football fan that sentence is something you’ve probably been hearing for the past year. Some blame it on the election year and the proven effect that has on sports ratings; others blame it on Colin Kaepernick and people boycotting the league for his actions and the reasons go on and on.

The reason very few are talking about is something much more simple at its core: the NFL is just getting more boring. Now if you’re someone like me who plays fantasy football with a borderline obsession, you don’t find the games boring because you have something invested in them. Same with those who gamble on games.

But as I sat and watched week two’s Monday Night Game between the Lions and Giants, I found myself dozing off by halftime. I began wondering what happened that made me suddenly start losing interest in a sport that I’ve loved since I was 13. So I took a look at the numbers.

What I found was surprising, scoring hasn’t decreased much from last year and turnovers are down while touchdown numbers are up over the past few years. So I took a look at the aesthetics of the game and chose what many are calling the best game of week one from the NFL: Chiefs versus Patriots.  

Alex Smith was praised for having a great game after throwing for four touchdowns and upsetting the mighty Patriots. There’s no denying the stats are good and he did play a big part in the win but something just felt off about his performance.

Well I went back and watched every throw he made during the game. Of his 28 completions, only eight were thrown past the first down marker. That’s not to say passes that were a five-yard slant and were turned into first downs by their playmakers.

Alex Smith only threw the ball in the air further than ten yards just 28 percent of the time.

Even more so, a majority of those throws came within the last two minutes of the first half when the offense is forced to push the ball downfield aggressively and another came on a busted coverage play. So in reality, a majority of the game is spent just pushing up the field by only a few yards per play.

So statistically, Smith did have a great game but that’s because the game has turned into a turnover-scared and play-it-safe game. Quarterbacks are relying more and more on their playmakers to turn a three-yard gain into a first down or simply make it second or third and short then pound the ball for a short gain and first down.

The excitement of the big plays is what keeps the game interesting for many and this is proof that those big plays are being passed on for more dull and less-for-TV shorter routes.

Now you may say that I only looked at one game and it’s unfair to make such judgements off one performance. So I looked at a similar performance from week two: Treveor Siemian leading the Denver Broncos over the Dallas Cowboys.

Siemian finished with four touchdowns and was praised much the same way Alex Smith was. Of his 22 completions, only four were thrown ten yards or further. That is 18 percent of his passes.

An interesting thing in looking at the teams with the worst quarterback situations in the league like the Jets and Colts, those quarterbacks also fall in the 15 to 30 percent range of completions being 10 yards or more.

That just goes to show how this phenomenon truly is league-wide.  

Now obviously you have your outliers like Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers who will air it out disregarding the turnover risk but that’s why they’re known as the greats. But along with their talent, there is another undeniable fact about them: they are the most fun to watch in the league.

Now I’m not saying the teams should change their game plans to better fit television. The reason quarterbacks are throwing shorter and more accurate passes is because they’re safer and less likely to turn it over.

Coaches don’t care if it’s not fun to watch because it means they get to keep their jobs and quarterbacks don’t care because it makes their stat lines look much better. But the undeniable truth is it just isn’t fun to watch.

As defenses get better and offensive linemen continue to be one of the slowest positions to develop from college to the pros as, this problem will only continue to get worse.

Of course, the league offices are largely to blame of this problem as well since they have implemented so many rules that allow receivers to be open in the immediate seconds after the snap.

I’m not saying this is how the NFL dies. Despite my being bored by a majority of the games, I’m still going to tune in for the occasional big play. But as viewership continues to decrease over the next few years as it likely will, one has to wonder just how the NFL is going to fix the underlying issue of boring offenses.

Tad Desai covers sports and education for The Sealy News. He can be reached at 979-885-3562 or sports@sealynews.com.

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