The Best of the Best of the Best, SIR!
By Luke Sims
Ok, so it may not be just like Men In Black, but the NFL is pretty similar. You’ve got your “best” airmen, army men, navy men, and marines all competing on the same field. They conform to what works best now. They are comfortable and confident that what they do will get the job done. They’re familiar with the work they do.
But like in Men In Black, when they attempt to venture from what they do best, they just don’t have that intangible trait to push them over the top. No matter how good they are, they just can’t be Will Smith.
They can’t be that gritty, run you down, knock the snot of you, make sure you’re more exhausted than me so I can catch you type approach.
The modern NFL requires four things: A good pass protecting offensive line, a quarterback with a quick release and good accuracy, big and speedy receivers, and tight ends that can block and catch. That’s the formula for success.
- The Colts proved for the better half of the 2000s that you don’t need a defense. In the next decade the Patriots are reaffirming that a defense isn’t necessary.
- The Packers have proven that you don’t need a running game.
- Kevin Boss, Jason Witten, Jeremy Shockey (a bit more old school), Aaron Hernandez, and Rob Gronkowski are all proving that the big, fast tight end is more valuable than a purely blocking tight end. Tony Gonzalez has been making that case for a decade now.
- Randy Moss, Santonio Holmes, Larry Fitzgerald, and Brandon Marshall prove that their play at wide receiver is more important than what the running back can do each year.
They are the “best of the best of the best.” The Packers, Patriots, and Saints have conformed to this formula. The Lions, Bears, Falcons, Niners, and just about everyone else tries to conform to the same formula.
But there’s a problem to this formula. If you focus on defense a bit more than the Packers, Patriots, or Saints, you’re focusing too much. The Niners have a great defense. They almost made the Superbowl, but they couldn’t outrun the opposition. What if a few million they were spending on defense was transfered to another offensive playmaker? They may have demolished the opposition. The Bears have tried to make the defense their identity since the end of the ’80s while trying to shift to a passing offense (That’s you Jay Cutler), but the focus on the defensive identity has hurt them; remember the Superbowl against the Colts? Did anybody think Chicago was going to win that game?
It’s just the way it is.
But there’s still some teams trying to buck the trend. Teams that will run you down. Teams that will out effort you. Teams that will beat the snot out of you until you don’t want to get back up.
To me, there are five teams that play “dirty” football: The Oakland Raiders, the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Kansas City Chiefs, the Baltimore Ravens, and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
They don’t always field the top rushers (Tennessee and Houston do well running the ball while attempting conformity to the dominant philosophy of the time), but they play more smash mouth football than the other teams. The Vikings could make a case, but that’s mostly because they haven’t found the next Warren Moon/Randall Cunningham/Fran Tarkenton.
- The Raiders simply don’t have a quarterback but proved last year that if they have a good enough running attack, they will run you into the ground and laugh at you as you struggle to get back up.
- The Jaguars try to out effort you on every play. Their scheming demands it. It’s a lot of running on offense and a lot of fundamental defensive play.
- The Chiefs are an oddity in this group in that some years they’ll field a perfect run the ball approach (2010) and others they’re completely off the map. But don’t be shocked when they try to beat you in the trenches.
- The Ravens focus on strong defense and tough running. When the Jags and Ravens matched up last year, everyone knew they were in for a low scoring, tough game. Winning with four field goals to one touchdown can only be expected when two grinding teams meet.
- The Steelers have a quarterback that could conform to the modern formula for success, but they still channel that offense in the trenches. They rely on really good blocking (often from receivers) and really good defense.
I’m not saying the Jags are right in their approach. I’m not saying that the more “standard” modern offenses are wrong. But keep in mind that when all is said and done, it isn’t about being the best of the best of the best – It’s about winning.
I’m betting on the teams that buck the trend. They’ll return to form when the defenses figure out how (read: are allowed by the officials) to beat offenses.
– Luke N. Sims