Primetime windows this season have often featured teams that are ill-prepared or ill-equipped to play entertaining football or move the ball the way we expect in the NFL. Coaching decisions on the field and the management of the game seemed, to many inside and outside the league, more baffling than ever. The inevitable controversies over referees (this year, mainly around the brutality of passer calls) did not help. Penalties have been a bane for some teams; the quarterback’s play was erratic; and one of the most defining scenes of the first half of the season featured Denver fans leaving en masse as the Broncos and Colts headed to overtime during what would end in a 12-point spot. 9 of a soccer contest.
“The product is shoddy right now,” a prominent player’s agent said unsolicited in a chat on a different topic. (He spoke on condition of anonymity partly so as not to offend some of his clients.) “There is too much low-IQ football being played. Too many games are hard to watch. If you want to know what people who have been in this league for a long time are talking about, this is it.”
Jerry Brewer: Where have all the good NFL teams gone?
The score is down from 2.48 offensive touchdowns per game in 2021 to 2.31 now. Touchdown passes per game went from 1.54 to 1.38. At the start of Week 9 last year, the average NFL QB rating was 94.5 — 12 qualified passers had a rating of at least 100 — with 408 touchdowns thrown on 191 interceptions. Going into this week, only seven qualified quarterbacks had a rating above 100, and the average rating was 90.2, with 338 touchdown passes and 188 interceptions. Add to that what many executives think is a coaching crisis, and you may have found the epicenter of the unsightly product.
“How many teams have the right coach and the right quarterback?” asked a successful general manager who didn’t want to alienate his peers or incur penalties from the league office by speaking freely about the state of play. “There aren’t that many. If you have either, you’ll win enough games to hang around and get into most games, which is what the league wants. Parity.
“If you only have one, there will be inconsistencies in your game, but you won’t blow yourself up every week. It’s probably 70, 75% of the league. If you have both, you’ll win and if you don’t have either, you’re screwed, and you lower the quality of play for everyone.
Determining which franchises truly have a winning coach and quarterback is obviously open to interpretation, and in a constantly transitioning league where tanking is no longer prohibited, some general managers argue that not enough time and patience is given to one or the other position. In my opinion – feel free to play at home – only five of the 32 teams receive double ticks, which is telling.
Last season around this time, Russell Wilson led the NFL in passer ratings (125.3!), Kyler Murray was an MVP favorite, Brady and Aaron Rodgers were deep in potential MVP campaigns, a healthy Dak Prescott was tearing it up and Matthew Stafford was second in the NFL with 22 passing touchdowns to just four interceptions. This year, Russ gets baked, the Buccaneers and Packers broke offenses, the league is baffled by why Murray and his coach got contract extensions, Prescott missed more games than he cares about. finished and Stafford had seven touchdowns for eight interceptions.
“Some Hall of Fame quarterbacks are gone [in recent years]some older quarterbacks might hit the wall and those [recent] quarterback classes might not be so great,” another GM suggested, with the 2021 class coming under particular scrutiny. “Then you look at who is coaching some of them, and that’s also a problem. Too much of this coaching research is crap shows. Too many owners don’t know what they’re doing or even what they’re doing. are looking for.
Of the quarterbacks drafted in 2021, first overall pick Trevor Lawrence certainly hasn’t looked generational yet, though grappling with the inept Urban Meyer his rookie year hasn’t helped. Jets fans are clamoring for second overall pick Zach Wilson to be benched; third pick Trey Lance barely played for the 49ers; and the Bears were finally able to build on the strengths of 11th pick Justin Fields just a few weeks ago. Mac Jones (15th overall) lost his New England job, at least briefly, to Bailey Zappe (the 137th pick last spring).
As for the first head coaches hired that year, Meyer is (thankfully) already gone and the backward Texans fired David Culley after a year, while Dan Campbell (Lions) and Brandon Staley (Chargers) made the ‘the subject of much hype, but their achievements have been few.
Cronyism and nepotism still provide a fast track for some unworthy coaching candidates, league folks lament. Then consider how many young coaches are piling their staff with equally inexperienced assistants, and consider how all this newness will impact talented players who already have to learn new systems.
No help for Aaron Rodgers (NFL trade deadline winners and losers)
There are more explanations. We’ve seen an unprecedented offseason of blockbuster trades involving both quarterbacks and wide receivers switching teams. The preseason is shorter than ever, and fewer teams are actually playing their starters for any significant amount of time in these exhibitions. Injuries to key players have been frequent – with players rightly outraged at the lack of mandatory grass pitches – and executives complain privately that the ever-growing list of international games is not helping the quality of play at the course of a regular season which is also longer than it already is.
There is, however, an interesting subplot to consider. Believe it or not, the NFL running game is booming like never before.
The NFL’s average rush this season is gaining 4.54 yards (it was 4.33 last season and 4.28 at the start of Week 9 a year ago). The highest number in NFL history was 4.42 yards in 2018, while around 4.0 yards per carry is the historic norm. Teams don’t run much more often – 42.2% of plays were rushes in 2022 compared to 41.1% at this point last year – but they do it more effectively in a game that prompted the pass down, though casual fans haven’t taken to it yet.
“What the hell are they all doing?” asked a grizzled NFL staff executive when asked about his thoughts on the quality of play. “Let me guess – the score is down and everyone wants more points? Listen man, everything is cyclical and nobody talks about it, but running the ball comes back.
“You hear a lot about all the scatter rosters in college and how they don’t produce offensive linemen. But since it’s so small now [with college teams using so many three-or-more receiver sets]they do not produce [defensive] tackles either. I’m on the road every week [scouting colleges] and they are no longer there as before. The best offenses attack what you give them, and people in this league stopped paying for run-stuffers years ago, and there aren’t as many good ones coming out. So why don’t you attack them in the running game? »
Maybe we’ve unlocked the NFL “Moneyball” equation: YPC in 2022 = OBP in 2000? Worthy of attention in the second half, if nothing else.