Do NFL rules really prevent sustained success?
There are those who make the argument we're supposed to be particularly impressed with the Patriots' success this decade, because they're doing it in a league with rules designed to prevent teams from sustaining success. The latest to make this claim is the Boston Herald's Gerry Callahan, who calls the Patriots "A true dynasty in an era that was designed to prevent dynasties" (via Fanhouse).
Look, the NFL has free agency and a salary cap. However, if the rules are designed to prevent teams from sustaining success, the rules are failing. A team with a good front office, a good head coach, and a good quarterback is definitely capable of keeping a long run going. The Patriots are obviously the model of success, and indeed, I would call them a dynasty. But look further at this decade. The Steelers have played in three Conference Championship Games, and the Eagles have played in four. The Colts have won their division five straight years. The Seahawks have won their division four straight years.
The Patriots are, indeed, a dynasty to be respected. But I don't think that we need to respect them more than the 80s/90s 49ers, 70s Steelers, or 60s Packers just because of the era they play in. Indeed, the Patriots have taken advantage of free agency to stock up the team and maintain their long-term success. If you're going to praise the Pats for winning despite free agency, then take away every Pats player that was acquired with the free agency rules, and replace him with whatever players the Pats lost with free agency rules. I'm going to guess the team wouldn't be as good. Today in order to maintain long-term success, teams must not just draft successfully, but they must manage their salary cap and off-season movement successfully. Perhaps far from making it more of a challenge, free agency allows well-run organizations yet another means to build and maintain success. The rules don't prevent long-term success, or dynasties--they're just rules, and good teams are able to use those very rules to their benefit.
Pass rush in today's NFL
Dr. Z makes the argument that a few of the playoff losers thus far failed because they failed to put pressure on the quarterback. It makes sense: a team with a good passing game (a smart quarterback and competent receivers) can shred a defense with easy short passes if the defense gives the quarterback time to throw. And if you aren't getting a pass rush with your front four, you can't just wait and hope they eventually get there: Dr Z says you have to spend time "figuring out blitz packages, rush schemes, exotics, mixers, crazies, something, anything, to stop the march of the offense, the 'slow burn,' as coaches call it."
And I agree. If you sit back, an offense with a good passing attack will slowly and methodically take you down the field and beat you. If you do something, anything, to rush the quarterback, to make him move, to make him hurry passes, to get him rattled, you have a chance. You might give up a big play--but you also give yourself a chance to get a stop.
Sacks are great, but the point is to pressure the quarterback, regardless of whether you actually tackle him in the backfield. Knocking him down, making him throw it away, making him hurry a throw--those are victories too. As Ohm Youngmisuk of the NY Daily News notes of last week's Giant victory over the Cowboys, "The Giants sacked Romo twice and hit him eight times. In the fourth quarter, Romo was just 6-for-15 for 81 yards as he spent most of the final drive scrambling and trying to make something happen."
For the road teams to pull off upsets this weekend, they must rush the quarterback. It's going to be a tough task, as both Brett Favre and Tom Brady are pretty adept at avoiding a pass rush and hitting their throws. But both the Giants and Chargers are capable of a pass rush (the Giants were #1 in the regular season with 53 sacks, the Chargers 5th with 42), and while they'll have to do more to beat their opponents than just get a pass rush, that will be a key.
Tortured Sports Cities
The Big Lead (here and here) and the Big Picture (here) have been discussing the most tortured fanbases (just a note: it's not terribly relevant to call the Twin Cities an "expansion" city regarding its NFL team: the Vikings started playing in 1961, making them just one year younger than the storied Dallas Cowboys and all the original AFL teams).
The cities with the longest championship droughts (San Diego, Buffalo, Cleveland) obviously deserve the most commiseration. Philadelphia hasn't had a pro title since 1983, and they've got four pro sports teams. Seattle has no championships since 1979. Minnesota should be noted, too--just two championships since the Lakers moved, and none of our teams have even reached the championship round since 1991. Washington's drought is as long as Minnesota's.
San Diego, Buffalo, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Seattle, Washington--we reach our hands to you in brotherhood (or sisterhood, as the case may be).
Stop Mike Lupica says "They oughta just contract the Wolves, and have the Sonics move there. Minnesota fans get something young and fun to root for (Durant and Green), which is what the plan was, and the franchise that McHale ruined gets destroyed once and for all." I don't even object.
Complete Sports says this year's UCLA basketball team is better than last year's team.
Dave Zirin writes about Dennis Brutus, a South African opponent of Apartheid that turned down entry into South Africa's Sports Hall of Fame.
Former Viking Wally Hilgenberg has ALS (Daily Norseman). Thoughts and prayers.