It's been a long time coming, and I shouldn't have made y'all wait (if anyone was paying attention), but I'm back. Work has been wild, I haven't spent much time in Connecticut, with no days off for most of the past month and a half. Now that the excuse train has ridden off, let's get started on the 2014 football season...
The media perpetuation of quarterback is God, there is no facet of the game more important than passing the ball, and scoring points at a massive clip... Is, unfortunately, still there. On the bright side, there are plenty of teams, and examples, of why these things are not the most important pieces for winning a football game. Pops, this first paragraph, is for you.
The Dallas Cowboys. Those who know me have heard me say, on countless occasions, and have probably gotten supremely annoyed with me for constantly harping on the point, that if the Cowboys just ride Demarco Murray, it will fix the vast majority of their problems. Riding the Murray train would make Tony Romo's job easier, it would cut down on possible mistakes in the passing game, and it would help the defense. It seems, so far, that the Cowboys have finally figured that out (maybe they read my "Dawn of a New Season" article?? A guy can dream...). Murray has 300 more yards than the next closest player, and only 3 players with at least 75 carries, are averaging more than his 5 yards per rush. He is tied with Arian Foster for most rushing touchdowns (7), and it has contributed to what is shaping up to be, arguably, the most efficient season of Tony Romo's career. Only Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees have a better completion percentage, and since throwing three interceptions in the first game against San Francisco, he has thrown only three over the next seven games, including the Seattle Seahawks. Will Romo continue to be efficient and will he continue taking care of the ball? That remains to be seen, but it is looking like a positive change at this time.
The defense has felt the biggest impact from a successful run game. After a season in which the Cowboys ranked 26th in the NFL allowing 27 points per game, they are at 15 this season, allowing almost a full touchdown less. With Sean Lee hurt, Morris Claiborne still out, and a defensive line that looked like a it would be a significant downgrade before the season began, they are one of the most surprising units in the NFL (for me, at least). Orlando Scandrick continues to perform when called upon. He never gets any respect as a top corner, and most years hasn't deserved it, but the past two years he has come in and made a huge impact in that secondary. Barry Church seems to have improved in all assets of the game, most notably in coverage, and for a defense that has been severely lacking in talent at safety, his improvement has been significant. Rolando McClain has come out of retirement to play, at worst, solid football, and has taken over for Sean Lee in the middle of the field to help form a very good, if overachieving, linebacking corps. Is Jeremy Mincy the catalyst? I doubt it, but he has been great on the defensive line for Dallas, Pro Football Focus has him tied for third in the NFL with 23 quarterback pressures. Pressure is huge in this league, and the combined improvement in pressure, and dedication to the running game, is paying dividends for the Dallas Cowboys. This could all blow up and the Cowboys could end up in the bottom of the division, but if they continue to run the ball, the success will likely follow.
Defenses aren't allowed to be good. That's not a typo. I'm also not saying that there aren't any good defense. Defenses are not allowed to be good. According to the NFL (at least this is what it seems to be), defenses don't bring in money. I have blasted the NFL for many of their rules which benefit the offense, all of which are in the name of "fairness" and "player safety". The player safety idea is a wonderful talking point, it really makes the NFL look like they care for their employees, and are trying to lengthen their careers, but the reality is very different. Ultimately, they are just making it not only more difficult to play defense, but actually taking away the abilities of players to perform their jobs at the highest level possible.
Too often when someone is hit hard over the middle, it's a penalty. It doesn't matter if they actually hit the receiver in the chest because now there is the ambiguous defenseless receiver penalty. The most galling, that I have seen, being a hit by Danny McCray on Jeremy Kerley in the end zone, during the week 3 game between the Bears and the Jets. It's a tough thing to be a receiver in the middle of the field, and the argument can definitely be made that they may deserve some protection, but it's one thing to take steps to protect, and a completely different thing to take away the ability to complete the job a player is being paid for. If the receiver is about to cross into the end zone as he catches a pass, but he is "defenseless", is the defender supposed to just give him the touchdown? As a coach... I would tell my players I'll take that penalty. Call me dirty, call me all the names you one can think of for players and coaches that advocate "hurting" another player, but I don't care, if a receiver has the football and the only option left is to hit him hard enough to make the ball pop out, I want him to wallop the receiver. Let them call the penalty, that receiver is going to alligator arm the next pass.
Courtney Upshaw was called for a roughing the passer penalty in the first game between Baltimore and Pittsburgh. My feelings about this rule are well known, but in this case, Roethlisberger was still HOLDING THE BALL! They called a roughing the passer on a sack. Upshaw put his facemask in Roethlisberger's chest, which, by the way, is how every football player is taught to tackle from the day they start their first practice in Pop Warner, and somehow that is now an illegal play. It's truly getting ridiculous now, at some point soon I fully expect the NFL to make the quarterback fully untouchable.
It is still amazing to watch these guys on the field. Quarterbacks may get glorified more than they should, and it is near impossible to hit them consistently without penalties being called, but there has been some impressive quarterbacking from many of them. Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, and Romo are possibly the most impressive to me this season. The way some of the guys can read the field, and the tight windows they can fit passes in is just crazy.
LeVeon Bell would be my favorite running back in the NFL, if he wasn't playing for the Steelers. The guy has more patience than a Buddhist monk, he can make guys miss, and on the same carry he can run over a player. Him and Demarco Murray have been amazing to watch all year, and it has been awesome to see Arian Foster recover from his injuries the past two years. Running backs are finding ways to flourish in today's NFL, and it makes me happy. There are 20 quarterbacks that have already thrown the ball 250+ times, and nine that have thrown the ball more than 300, but the offensive linemen for many of these teams have kept their quarterbacks upright.
One of the most overlooked part of football, which has always confused me, is the play of the offensive line. Without a good offensive line, there won't be very many successful offenses because the quarterback won't have time to throw, and the running backs won't have anywhere to run. The Cowboys' offensive line has been almost flawless most of the season. They have given Murray a ton of room to run, and have given Romo time to throw, ProFootballFocus has them rated as the 4th best when blocking for the run, and 5th for the pass. The only other team in the top 5 for both categories is the Baltimore Ravens. I have not had as much time to sit down and just watch football as I'd like, so I cannot heap praises on the line as much as they deserve, but next time you're watching a game take your eyes off the ball every once in awhile. The war in the trenches can be incredibly exciting to watch.
Thank you for being patient through the first half of this season. Next time I take this long, someone is more than welcome to yell at me!! If y'all like how I wrote this, I might make it a series, so let me know. I don't want to leave y'all hanging, so tell me what you want to hear, and I'll try to incorporate it into upcoming articles. Leave your comments and thoughts below, and don't forget to share with your friends.