Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Perpetual Explosion

Every Play A Touchdown
When astronomers started looking at the heavens with advanced gear, they used the Doppler effect to determine whether or not the universe was expanding or contracting. Expansion supports the Big Bang as a theory for how things began; contraction speaks to a cyclical experience. So far, everything we've seen speaks to expansion -- in perpetuity.

You know, kind of like NFL scoring levels.

The NFL that I grew up with required dominant rushing attacks. Passing was pretty, and there was always a few big plays that could sway a game. You certainly could not win if you could not defend against the pass. But defense won the most important games, when the weather turned cold and unrelenting, and defense was a predictable asset from year to year. Good defense made good offense go away.

Times changed. The game went indoors with greater frequency, to better weather, and to far more forgiving turf. The rules changed, almost always to aid the production of points. Offenses got increasingly bailed out on plays where they did nothing well, and hits to the quarterback became increasingly rare. Better and better athletes went to QB, and the best running QBs in the history of the game all more or less play right now.

I don't watch college professional football, because I didn't grow up with it, and there really isn't enough time in the day to add anything to my sports mix. But I do keep an eye on it, because it's the D-League for players and coaches alike. So today's 49-42 Alabama over Texas A&M experience, where the dominant coach and program had their road revenge on Johnny Manziel, the Heisman Trophy winner that seems to be pioneering the role of charismatic heel QB / problem child, registered...

But mostly for the final score only, and how they got there.

Thirteen touchdowns, twelves of them by the offenses. 562 yards of total offense for the Aggies, 464 through the air, and another 98 on the ground for Manziel. If not for the two picks on Manziel, there's no way that Alabama wins, and if you are starting to wonder about the veracity of a game in which offensive touchdowns outnumbered punts by a 2 to 1 margin, and neither team attempted a field goal...

Well, you aren't alone.

Especially because Alabama is universally regarded as one of the better defenses.

And since what happens in college now is what happens in the pros in a few years...

Well, the simple fact of the matter is that, like the steroid era in baseball, we seem to be getting near the end of the line in offensive football. If the most likely end to an offensive possession is a touchdown, and even a very good defense looks helpless to get a stop...

Well, why watch, since the winner and loser seems more or less random?

In 2012, New England led the league with 2.82 points per possession. So far in 2013, Denver is in front with 3.27 points per drive. (And the average drive goes something like 35 yards.)

So... do we really want to get to the point where a 3 and out is, perhaps, a once a game occurrence?
Or that you could have a defense that never even forces a punt, but you win the game by a lot, simply from giving up field goals instead of touchdowns?

At some point in steroid ball, when games were won and lost by middle relievers and four hour games weren't the exclusive domain of the Red Sox and Yankees, the game didn't really suffer at the gate. Now that the scores have contracted and the PEDs are in retreat, the ratings and gate have gone backwards, but it's really not a simple cause and effect; it's more that football has been on a 40-year rise, and it's got to come from somewhere. Pinball football games haven't really worked for Arena, but that league has been around for a really long time with minimal star power or network support, so maybe the points are doing them good after all.

The crowds will still come. The ratings won't go anywhere. No one really cares about records in football, or historical comparisons, and the scoring isn't being driven by PEDs.

But am I alone in, well, missing when a touchdown was a relatively rare event? Or wondering if the NFL will ever take a moment to rein in the explosion?

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