David Fleming, senior writer for ESPN The Magazine, and frequent contributor to espn.com Page 2, once again proves that, with regards to sports, you can basically say whatever you want, no matter how insipid, no matter how unreasoned, no matter how wrong, and have it pass as legitimate writing. Nobody will call you out, except possibly a blogger with a readership in the single digits. To this end, I give you the masterpiece below. As usual, the bold comments are mine.
Five Reasons Why NFL Defenses Stink
By David Fleming
Suppose you are a slightly smarter-than-average 8th grader writing an essay with the above title for English class. Wouldn't you immediately think to provide proof, or at least some semblance of justification, that NFL defenses really do stink? You'd recognize the importance of this, right? After all, if NFL defenses don't stink then the whole exercise of providing five reasons why they stink is pretty much pointless, right? Just keep that in mind as you read.
I have always thought of Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham as one of those cool, leathery, old-school guys with great stories; a perpetually hoarse, gravelly voice; and tremendous passion for the game. But after railing against the sad state of defense in the NFL in a recent story by Tom Kowalski, Cunningham is starting to sound more like an angry, confused old guy in plaid slacks yelling at you to stay off his grass.
"Throughout the league, I've never seen offensive statistics as good, or defenses as bad," Cunningham said.
By now, Gunny should be an expert on horrific defenses. His 2-9 Lions team is ranked dead last in defense the NFL. To be fair, Detroit has been decimated by a decade of bad drafts and a rash of injuries. But this is the worst defense I've seen since, maybe, Cunningham's 2008 squad in Kansas City, which finished 31st out of 32 teams.
Wouldn't the team that finished 32nd be even worse? Just askin'.
Not that any of this is Cunningham's fault, mind you. "There's a real problem for the defensive side of the ball, and NCAA started all of this, as far as I'm concerned," Cunningham said. "I study this game and wonder why all of these things are happening, and that's my personal opinion. It's arguable, but I'd love to argue it."
OK, I'm game.
All in all, this is actually a decent start for Flem. He's calling out Cunningham for being a lousy defensive coordinator and a gibberish-talking curmudgeon, both of which seem valid. Unfortunately, the article doesn't end here.
Apparently, Gunny doesn't like all the newfangled, fancy, super spread offenses -- which is a really bad sign for Lions fans, given that he's in a profession based on change, speed and adaptability. As I wrote a year ago in an extensive cover story for ESPN The Magazine about the evolution of offense, the NFL's future doesn't belong to mammoth tackles, statuesque quarterbacks or crabby old-school coaches. It belongs to the next generation of fast-thinking thrill-seekers weaned on the Web, iPods and "Madden."
Fleming writes cover stories?! See, you can say anything and it qualifies as legitimate writing. Never mind the fact that the average weight of an NFL tackle is 318 lbs., up 13% from the late '80s. Never mind the fact that out of the top 10 quarterbacks currently in the NFL at least four of them are "statuesque" by any reasonable interpretation of the word (Manning, Brady, Favre, Warner), and two others don't move so great either (Roethlisberger and Rivers). And never mind the fact that the last sentence of the paragraph is little more than a meaningless compilation of buzz words.
Incredibly, Cunningham blames most of this mess on the fact that the NCAA allows athletes to practice for only 20 hours a week -- forcing the 99 percent of college players who will never make the NFL to do stupid stuff like, you know, study and work toward a degree.
The truth of the matter is, the NFL has no one to blame but itself for the sad state of defenses.
And here's why:
Before Fleming gets into why something is true, he really should verify that, in fact, it is true. How could one verify that NFL defenses are in a sad state? Well, one idea would be to demonstrate a rise in scoring over the years. I'll do this for Fleming.
I've consider the current year (2009), last year (2008), then 2005, then 2000, then 1995, and so on, all the way to 1960. The average team score per game in these years: 21.5, 22.0, 20.6, 20.7, 21.5, 20.1, 21.5, 20.5, 20.6, 19.3, 23.1, 21.6. Yep, defenses are so sad today that they are only doing as well as they did in 1995 and 1985, and only doing slightly better than they did in 1965. Now let's look at average yardage totals per game in these years: 336.3, 327.2, 315.9, 319.4, 328.9, 308.6, 329.4, 323.5, 308.3, 281.8, 304.5, 303.8. There is a little more variance here than with points, and there might be a small uptick after 1975, but basically the same after that.
There is absolutely no indication that defenses are any worse now than they were at any other given moment in the last fifty years, with respect to scoring, and the last thirty years, with respect to yardage. So, just using the Internet, and about 15 minutes of time, I've basically destroyed the entire premise for this article. Again, the author writes cover stories for a reputable sports publication.
Let's keep going anyway.
1. The tenets of tackling have not changed in the last 75 years. Seriously -- you can pick up a football-fundamentals book from 1933 and put it next to one published this year, and the section on tackling is nearly identical. Tackling technique has not kept pace with the rest of the game.
Sure, football players learn how to tackle from studying football-fundamental books -- peer reviewed literature, I assume.
2. One of the NFL's dirty little secrets is that, after training camp, defenders do not practice tackling ball carriers all the way down to the ground. Seriously. With worries about injuries and depth and the salary cap, there is no tackling practice in the NFL from September to February. Imagine if quarterbacks didn't practice throwing, or if receivers didn't practice catching.
That naughty NFL.
3. In 1978, the league made it illegal for defenders to "bump" receivers after they've traveled five yards downfield, clearing the way for all the underneath crossing routes that are the backbone of the West Coast offense. That same year, the league also basically legalized holding by allowing linemen to extend their arms and open their hands without being flagged. The NFL regularly legislates advantages for offenses because -- duh -- passing and scoring sell. And these two rule changes made a huge impact on the game.
And these legislated advantages have increased scoring by approximately 0.0 points on average. Seriously, why wouldn't you just do a modicum of research before you write this drivel. This is your job! This is what you do all day. For God's sake, look some shit up!
4. With respect to size and speed, linebackers have not kept up with tight ends. In 2008, the average Pro Bowl tight end had three inches and 15 pounds on the average Pro Bowl linebacker. Assuming similar speed, that's a significant momentum advantage for tight ends.
Wow, did he look at all four pro bowl tight ends in this analysis or just one conference?
5. The popularity of the Cover 2. This defense relies on outside run support from cornerbacks, the smallest guys on the field. It also uses "leveraged" tackling -- a technique in which tacklers take angles that, if they miss, funnel the ball toward the strength of the defense. It sounds good, in theory. But it actually has tacklers thinking about missing before they even attack.
I think if you talk out of your ass long enough, and nobody stops you -- on the contrary, they pay you to do it -- you just keep going. You probably even start to believe it.
That's why NFL defenses stink right now.
And have stunk for the past 50 years, apparently.
It has nothing to do with the NCAA or any other ridiculous conspiracy.
Now, who wants to volunteer to tell Gunther?
Ugh... tripe, pure tripe.