There is a new creature crawling from the NFL’s primordial ooze…
Theories abound as to what made the dinosaurs extinct. I personally believe that a union uprising over paid holidays at Mr. Slate’s rock quarry led to the great beast’s demise but we can discuss that later. Another, less Flintstones-y, theory involves a comet slamming into the earth and changing the climate so drastically that Dino and Barney, who had recently been traded toGreen Bay, froze their Cajon’s off. A comet hit the NFL a few years ago in the person of Roger Goodell and things have been getting chilly for the defense ever since.
When I was a child you had to know a little bit about football to enjoy and appreciate the sport. The game was about the uniform and not so much about the player wearing it. There were no 24 hour sports networks looking for feel good (or feel bad) stories about players. In the 70’s we may have known that Ken Stabler was a party animal but we didn’t have instant access to The Snake’s Twitter feed to see real time analysis of his barroom conquests. Without the benefit of Facebook or TMZ we, the fans of professional tackle football, were left with the action on the field. Pete Rozelle brought the league to the forefront of American sport and DEFENSE was the name of the game. Players on both sides of the ball had to be tough but it was under Rozelle’s watch that the NFL started to soften to sell tickets (for games) and tires (on TV). Quarterbacks (unless it was Bradshaw) couldn’t be driven into the ground every play and cornerbacks (Mel Blount) had to keep their hands off receivers after five yards. This lead to a brief advantage for NFL offenses; the late seventies and eighties saw scoring go up. To correct this aberration, teams expanded their defense budget and the number of superstars on the defensive side of the ball equaled or exceeded the hot shots on offense. The fastest dudes on the field were often defensive backs. “Defense wins championships” was still the law of the land (even though every game I’ve ever seen was won by the team with the most points).
Goodell’s Comet slammed into the turf in 2006 and climate change was swift. Sure, he had to rein in some of the bad boys that Paul Tagiabue had let run roughshod. Suspensions to Pacman Jones and Mike Vick were no brainers. Pro athletes had become prime fodder for the never ending news crawl and Roger was going to clean up the NFL. But then came the rule changes: Suddenly offensive players wearing the same amount of protective gear as their defensive foes were deemed to be defenseless. Defenders could no longer hit quarterbacks too high. Then, they couldn’t hit quarterbacks too low. It is all too fitting that the “Tuck Rule” call came against Oakland’s defense on a cold and snowy night; the cold blooded dinosaur of defense would soon be dead and gone. It became more important to make stars out of marketable faces like Mark Sanchez and Tony Romo. So what if this new breed of player wasn’t tough or skillful. Goodell’s futzing about with the rules would assure that nearly anyone lined up under or behind center would be a star in the league. And to make sure these offenses excelled, the recievers would be able to run freer than ever.
Defenders can no longer lead with their heads when making a tackle. Check that! Defenders can no longer lead with their heads when tackling a receiver or quarterback; they can still pound a running back into a coma with their huge melons (said in a Stuart McKenzie voice). But hey, scoring is up, pizzas and car insurance are selling like never before, and the league is pretending it cares about head injuries. Roger learned to pretend about caring when he was heading up NFL Charities.
The Steelers need to evolve to stay competitive in Goddell’s NFL. Pittsburgh’s defense is aging and there is a ton of cash tied up in that unit. Wallace, Brown and Sanders call themselves “Young Money” and they will be expecting their payday soon. The Steelers are already over the salary cap for next season and there will be some tough decisions to be made on who to keep, who to restructure, and who to cut ties with. The Patriots, Saints, and Packers all made the playoffs with explosive offenses and perfectly shitty defenses. The 49ers and the Ravens (TCSFB) are still in the mix on championship weekend and may be the last stand for the endangered Linebackerasaur.