Joe Knows

This weekend gave me hope. No, a fresh batch of Republican presidential candidates didn’t emerge from the abyss to give me reason to believe there’s intelligent life out there.

Nope, what the events of this weekend proved to me is that defense and physicality really still do count for something in football.

After a regular season that produced 10 quarterbacks with more than 4,000 yards, including three who eclipsed the 5,000-yard mark as well as three who racked up more than 40 touchdown passes, I must admit I had had enough.

By comparison, Johnny Unitas, who, is one of the first quarterbacks to be named when speaking about the best ever, never even passed for 4,000 yards. I for one will not stand for Matthew Stafford holding better statistics than Johnny U.

Not that I was ever sick of football, but another game like Green Bay-Detroit in Week 17 would have made it on my TV only a few seconds longer than that animal abuse commercial set to sappy music that seems to last five minutes.

However, this weekend served as a reminder that pressuring the quarterback out of the pocket and pestering wide receivers down the field is still the definitive recipe for success. Add the fact that the shotgun, four-wide blitzkrieg attack that the Saints and Packers employ backfired, and it’s clear that the playoffs remain about defense.

Still, each winning team had to put up a barrage of points. In fact, the 49ers, who boasted the NFL’s No. 2 scoring defense (giving up an average of only 14.2 points per game), had to score 36 points in a shootout with New Orleans.

However, each winning team except New England won the turnover battle, and the Patriots counteracted their minus-1 turnover margin by limiting Denver to just 252 total yards.

I realize times have changed — my Sony Walkman isn’t nearly as cool as it once was — and that in our instant gratification generation, we want points and we want lots of them. But at what point is enough enough?

We’re now at a point where we’re tailoring every rule to advance the passing game. Not only are quarterbacks not allowed to be touched at all anymore, and receivers are free to run wild over the middle without any consequences, but holding, by definition, should be called on virtually every play.

It used to be that offensive linemen weren’t even allowed to use open hands. They’ve long since changed it so linemen must stay “within the frame” of the player they’re blocking. But still, if officials actually enforced the rule as it is currently intended, offenses would go be going 10 yards in reverse so often, 2nd and 50 would become commonplace in the NFL.

Of course, if the NFL still doesn’t let defensive backs touch receivers, a simple slant pattern could be enough to reset the chains.

JOE CUNEO

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