It is not just that the Bengals have got off to an 0-2 start that has me frustrated at the start of the season, although it doesn’t help.
In Europe we are bedding a brand new NFL Gamepass site, and whilst there are some good points like the quality of the streams now that they are being hosted over here, and being able to download games to your tablet or phone for watching at a later date, there are plenty of teething issues. A quick search will find you talk of this video is not available in your region, which appears to be some kind of connection/cache issue.
More frustrating are the tools that we have so far lost, that we were used to in the old system. The video player is more basic, and we are no longer able to navigate via play by play bookmarks. Even more difficult for someone like myself, is that the coaching tape is not available yet and all I’ve heard so far is that it will be added soon. Given that this is one of my favourite things about having Gamepass, not to mention that it is putting on hold my regular tape break downs here on the blog, it is really frustrating not to have it already.
So if the presentation is getting there, but missing key things I am used to, how have the games been? Here we get to a meaty discussion that seems to have been the theme for a lot of the NFL coverage that I consume. The quality of play at the moment is a point of contention, and it seems to break to down into a couple of areas.
The first is that under the current collective bargain agreement (or CBA), practice time and specifically the amount of hitting that can be done has been reduced. Now this is for player safety and is a hard thing to argue about, but coaches have been talking about it limiting their ability to develop players. You could write a book on how to coach a team and split reps at practice, so I’m not going to delve heavily into this, but there are two areas that I think is worth highlighting.
Unusually for me, these are both on offence, and might help why according to some commentators the league’s defences have had the upper hand in the early season.
There are some positions where due to the amount of communication involved, there is no real substitute for live reps, even if you are trying to make use of new training advances like the remote controlled mobile tackling dummies. One of them is the offensive line and there seem to be fewer good ones in the NFL at the moment.
This is being highlighted at the moment with a different approach to training camp, with many teams seemingly focused on getting into the season healthy as much as preparation and so offences may improve through the season but are not looking sharp right now. Some teams actually embrace this timetable for peaking their performance with Pete Carroll explicitly stating that the Seahawks focus is to peak in November and December, whilst Bill Belichick has talked about not even having his roster settled until October.
I’m wary of focussing on the Seahawks too much when discussing offensive line play, as it is an area of the roster that they have consistently not invested in heavily be it draft picks, or free-agents. However, whilst teams have different approaches, a consistent theme I have heard apart from how hard it is to develop players is the quality of player entering the league.
In terms of athleticism, there has been massive improvement in terms of the size and speed of players, particularly in terms of how quickly larger players now move. However, the college game, and for the purposes of this particular blog, specifically the offences run by the majority of college games is not developing players for the NFL.
Now in fairness this is not their job. A college head coach is paid to win football games, and so they should do that in the best way they can. But with the popularity of spread offences, there are highly touted, physically gifted offensive line players, who have never taken up a three-point stance or used an aggressive pass set. Now the NFL teams have to scout and work with what they have available, and there are still good linemen out there. However, I keep hearing discussions about a developmental league, and it would seem a very good idea. Not only would it help young players develop, but it might solve the other area of the offence I want to focus on, namely, the quarterback.
Now the reason I want to mention quarterback is not just Andy Dalton’s struggles over the first two games, but the way we cover them and the simple fact that there are nowhere near enough of them to go around.
Given the talent pool that is the continental United States, it might be considered surprising that with only thirty-two spots to fill, that not every team can have a quality starter. However, it is a very complex position to play, requiring a particular set of skills. There is some variation of course, but a quarterback needs to be able to read what is happening on defence, co-ordinate the response, and have the physical tools to get the ball to where it needs to go. It might help if they are athletically gifted as a running quarterback does help open up other ways to attack a defence, but it is not essential.
Generally, the media put too much of the credit on a quarterback’s shoulders when a team wins, and blames them too heavily when a team loses, but given the amount of control a quarterback has over an offence this is seen as part of playing the position.
The problem we have is not only supply and demand, but again goes back to college and practise. Along with the spread system, college quarterbacks increasingly don’t have to call their own plays as signs are used from the side-line. They may rarely take snaps under centre, and this all has to change dramatically upon entering the NFL.
You only have to look at the slow development of a player like Jared Goff, who is having to learn the fundamentals of his trade whilst already a pro, and a combination of media and owners mean that a lot of pressure comes to bear when a high draft pick doesn’t get on the field quickly. This is particularly the case if a team is bad, as they will often be the team drafting a quarterback early. The issue is that whilst a quarterback will only develop so much without reps, the plan to let them take their lumps early is all very well unless the team around them isn’t good enough to succeed. In fact it can actually harm a player if you can’t protect a quarterback and he gets hit too much causing injury or develops bad habits.
And remember, we’ve already discussed that good offensive lines are not exactly getting easier to build.
So we have the current situation with not enough quality quarterbacks to go round, and a number of them (even quality players) under pressure as they can’t be protected.
So you get NFL defences on top. These things do go in cycle, but a combination of issues developing talent and the readiness of that talent could cause a real issue in terms of quality of play. We can’t go back to endless hitting and two a day training camps as we know that is detrimental to player health. I just hope that new ways to develop talent are found, and that if it does, there will be coaching tape for me to marvel at.
And so on to the week three picks.
Gee: Week 2 9-7 Overall 18-14
Dan: Week 2 8-8 Overall 15-17
Rams @ 49ers (+2.5)
I think Dan thought I was little crazy when I said I was looking forward to this game, but I genuinely am. The LA Rams beat the Colts by a large margin in week one, yet travel to San Francisco with a 1-1 record and Aaron Donald back in the fold to face an 0-2 49ers team. I am interested in looking at how both teams are developing under rookie head coaches as they come back from poor performances in recent years. However, the Rams have shown more this season, and with a surprising eighteen place difference in their ranking by overall DVOA and going into what has been a poorly attended Levi’s stadium, I am trusting the team with a win to get another despite the record of home teams in the Thursday night game. I could regret this.
Gee’s Pick: Rams
Dan’s Pick: Rams