Jim Vallet and Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter
Scoring is down in the NFL in 2023.
This year, NFL teams have scored an average of 22 points a game, down from 24.8 just two years ago. The important two questions are:
- Does it matter? Yes. Although NFL attendance is up slightly, TV ratings are down. That means money lost to the NFL.
- Why? A Much harder question to answer. Declining points scored, increased costs for going to games, possible over exposure, and a certain amount of fan resentment towards the NFL and its players are all possible answers.
As a Christmas gift to the NFL, (one I’m sure they’ll cherish) I have
some suggestions to increase scoring. I am basing my suggestions on the premise that there are A LOT of boring NFL games. Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones said Tuesday that he “…snoozed” during some of the Seahawks-Eagles Monday night “thriller”. I am with him. For the first time in many years, my wife and I changed the channel of the football game and watched reality shows instead. When the Patriots, Steelers, Broncos, Jets, Giants, Bears, Packers, Titans, Falcons, Panthers, Saints, Chargers, or Raiders play you are pretty much guaranteed a boring game. And it doesn’t take a football swami to realize that the common thread to all of these teams is sub-NFL level quarterback play.
There are not enough Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allens to go around. And if your team is stuck with Mac Jones or Easton Stick, the only choice for the coach is to try and limit the number of mistakes your bad QB is going to make.
And so we have five-minute, 10-play offensive drives that culminate in a field goal attempt. We have a promising drive that ends with yet another holding call that forces the offense to punt from midfield. We have passes that are so errant the officials must consider intentional grounding. Or we have the sack that analysts constantly remind us that the quarterback just couldn’t take.
Offenses certainly must bear at least some of the blame. With what we have seen when the backup QB is forced to play, you would think offensive coordinators would do whatever is necessary to protect their starting quarterback. Offenses like the Bengals continue to run 5-receiver sets with no one in the backfield to protect the player that is by far their most important single player. And, now the Bengals, like many other teams, have lost their starting QB. Why aren’t we seeing anyone put two big blockers in the backfield to protect their quarterback? Why are offenses getting more, not less, complicated while under increasing pressure? Why are there so many receivers run right, QBs throw left plays?
Accordingly, my first suggestion is that the NFL follow the NBA and MLB leads and govern what defenses can do. If nine defensive guys on the line of scrimmage makes it impossible for the average NFL QB to advance the ball, limit the number of players who can be on the line pre-snap to four. Have only six players who can rush the quarterback in the pocket, and make them declare themselves as rushers, similar to what eligible receivers must do. Allow no more than three rushers on one side of the ball. Make all defensive players line up within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.
My second suggestion is to ban place kicking.
I like soccer. But soccer has no place in football. To have huge, world class athletes smashing the heck out of each other so that some ex-soccer player can kick a 60-yard field goal is not what football is all about. To me, it’s like dumping extra innings in baseball in favor of a spelling bee to decide close games. And by virtually eliminating returns on kickoffs, most of the time the kickoff, like Troy Vincent recently said, “…is mostly ceremonial.”
Worse than the actual field goal is the conservatism it seems to inspire among offensive coaches. Kickers are so good now that, rather than deciding the game by real football players, coaches take the safe path and prefer to kick their way to winning rather than win by playing football. If banning place kicking is too extreme, either decrease the distance between the goal posts or reduce the point value of a field goal to 1 or 2 points.
My third group of suggestions has to do with officiating, and there are two problems for me: Penalties; and useless delays.
I hate penalties, and I can only tolerate them when they are obvious. And so, it is not the pass interference calls that drive me nuts, it’s the offensive holding calls. Officials are not consistent calling offensive holding, period and end of story. If it’s not holding when a defender is going one way, why is it holding when a defender attempts to go a different direction and the offensive guy’s arms are no longer within his shoulders? And if it is all about the offensive player’s hands, how can he hold without using his hands?
The NFL has to join the modern sportsworld and have full-time game officials. Currently, the NFL is the only major professional sports league that does not have full time game officials. It makes a lot of sense to me that officiating would be greatly improved.
Then there’s the delays and conferences among officials. You’ll notice all officials have a microphone and headsets, so why the need to conference? And why not have a co-referee with instant replay to immediately overturn obvious bad calls?
If TV ratings are down, the NFL is still the most successful American sports league. Maybe executives should not fix what is not broken. But I think lately the NFL has been spending a lot of effort to convince us that a pig is a thoroughbred horse. There are a lot of boring games no matter what is happening to scoring. Successful businesses tend to be that way because they are on the cutting edge. Don’t follow baseball’s lead and wait until it’s too late.
Finally! A big week! I’ll try to ride my momentum and do the same, or better, this week. Here are my picks against the spread. Lines are from sportsline.com on Tuesday, Dec. 19.
LA Rams (-4) vs. New Orleans Saints: The Rams are hot and at home on a Thursday. The Saints struggle mightily against good teams, which the Rams are right now.
Detroit Lions (-3) at MInnesota Vikings: It’s not where the Lions play, it’s the surface and temperature where they play that make the difference. This week, the Lions play in 72 degrees and on artificial turf.
Jacksonville Jaguars (+1) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs might make the playoffs because of their division, but they are not a playoff team.
Dallas Cowboys (+1 ½) at Miami Dolphins: I know, I know, the Cowboys on the road. The Dolphins are beat up and are 0-3 against teams with winning records.
Denver Broncos (-6) vs. New England Patriots: Bring out the fork and stick it in the Pats, they’re done.
SF 49ers (-5 ½) vs Baltimore Ravens: I think that the Ravens are the best team in the AFC. I also think the 49ers are the best team in the NFL. Even so, I don’t like giving 5 ½ here, but I will.
Cincinnati Bengals (-2) at Pittsburgh Steelers: The Bengals are beat up. The Steelers are dysfunctional. I’ll take the team that seems to be trying to make the playoffs.
Last week: 8-2
Air Force (+1) over James Madison: I read something from a “professional handicapper” this week where he said he likes to bet against triple option teams in bowl games because their opponents have weeks to prepare to face them. I hope he’s lying instead of merely being mistaken. Army, Navy and Air Force, the only three teams in college football that currently run the triple option, are a combined 13-2 in their last 15 bowl games.
Utah (-6) over Northwestern: Northwestern is a great story this year, earning a bowl trip after all the preseason controversy and the firing of coach Pat Fitzgerald. But the Wildcats’ wins this year have come against UTEP, Minnesota, Howard, Maryland, Wisconsin, Purdue and Illinois. They gained 400 yards of offense only once this season. Kyle Wittingham won his first nine bowl games at Utah, but has lost his last four, although the opponents in the last three were Texas, Ohio St. and Penn St. The first of those four? Northwestern. The Utes avenge that one and start a new streak.
Colts (+2 ½) over Falcons: The Colts are a limited team that has found ways to win all season. The Falcons can’t even figure out how to get the ball to their best guys.
Commanders (+3) over Jets: The Jets aren’t going to the playoffs, and Aaron Rodgers isn’t coming back this season. Neither was ever really possible.
Jaguars (+3) over Buccs: Both of these teams are in three-way races for their division titles. I’ll take the field goal in a 50-50 game.
College: No plays