La Canfora: Why is there so much bad football in the NFL?

Harry Hooper

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La Canfora has a look around the league with a particular focus on factors behind reduced scoring:

Cronyism and nepotism still offer a fast-track for some unworthy coaching candidates, people around the league lament. Then factor in how many of the young coaches stack their staffs with similarly inexperienced assistants, and consider how all this newness impacts skill players already having to learn new systems.

There are more explanations. We saw an unprecedented offseason of blockbuster trades involving both quarterbacks and wide receivers changing teams. The preseason is shorter than ever, and fewer teams are actually playing their starters for any meaningful period of time in those exhibitions. Injuries to key players have been prevalent — with players rightfully indignant over the lack of mandatory grass fields — and executives grumble privately that the ever-expanding slate of international games doesn’t help the quality of play across a regular season that is also longer than ever.

There is an interesting subplot to consider, however. Believe it or not, the NFL running game is thriving like never before.
 

ilol@u

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Not understanding the correlation between “low scoring” = “bad football”.
I think the offensive turnover with offensive mega-stars switching teams (Devante Adams, Russell Wilson, Tyreek Hill, etc) has something to do with it. I don’t have the numbers now, but teams seem to be very aggressive offensively such as going for it on fourth down. I’m curious as to if this year broke the record for most 4th down conversations in NFL history.
 

Strike4

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My theory has been that if you create rules in a sport for a desired outcome (pass happy) eventually there's a saturation point and the opposite starts to happen.
 
Not understanding the correlation between “low scoring” = “bad football”.
I think the offensive turnover with offensive mega-stars switching teams (Devante Adams, Russell Wilson, Tyreek Hill, etc) has something to do with it. I don’t have the numbers now, but teams seem to be very aggressive offensively such as going for it on fourth down. I’m curious as to if this year broke the record for most 4th down conversations in NFL history.
Numbers are actually down a little this year from last, both in terms of attempts and success rate

2020 1.29 per team per game 4th down attempts - 55.02% success
2021 1.46 attempts - 53.09% success
2022 1.32 attempts - 49.54% success

Without going back further I can't say for sure, but from previous research I believe 2021 was the high point and 2020 the previous high. So compared to where we were 5-10 years ago (or longer) the number of attempts is significantly higher.

(All numbers from pro football reference seasons-team passing pages)
 

JMDurron

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My theory has been that if you create rules in a sport for a desired outcome (pass happy) eventually there's a saturation point and the opposite starts to happen.
The rules were also created for a type of QB (the Brady-Manning-Brees era) that is now less prevalent coming out of the college game. It’s entirely possible that Hurts and Tua (and maybe even…Geno Smith?) are indicators that it just takes a little bit longer for today’s NCAA stud QB to become as effective in today’s NFL as a passer. It may just take longer and better coaching to help make that transition happen, and we’re in that transition period with a large number of QBs right now.
 

Justthetippett

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I don’t think there’s anything wrong with 21-14 or 20-17 type games. It’s possible to have “good football” without a ton of points. What’s exciting is watching either the defense or offense “win”, not one or the other vomiting all over itself.

Expanding the regular season, International games in Europe and TNF are three obvious changes that tire players and bring down the quality of the game. They don’t have the formula right on any of these yet.

I take the point about developmental pipelines and extended timelines. The practice squad changes in recent years are an improvement but it seems most teams are still chasing the shiny object instead of investing in developing talent.

His criticism of coaching staffs is kind of thin, but in many sports the quality of the coaching does go down at the highest levels, where the athletes need less instruction and it’s more about management. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case in the NFL.
 

SamCassellsStones

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Feb 8, 2017
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Not understanding the correlation between “low scoring” = “bad football”.
I think the offensive turnover with offensive mega-stars switching teams (Devante Adams, Russell Wilson, Tyreek Hill, etc) has something to do with it. I don’t have the numbers now, but teams seem to be very aggressive offensively such as going for it on fourth down. I’m curious as to if this year broke the record for most 4th down conversations in NFL history.
Agree with you on this - actually find lower scoring games more interesting, as defense + special teams have more impact on the game. More strategy overall in the sport when all three phases (as we say around here) are involved. There’s a reason the Arena League keeps folding.
 

luckiestman

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The offensive lines are terrible for the most part. The lack of practice time hurts this position group the most.
Lombardi said a while back that the way college guys play oline also contributes to this.
 

DennyDoyle'sBoil

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Yeah, from the eye test it’s the o lines. There are just not enough good offensive linemen to fill out 32 teams and to overcome injury. QBs just cannot have any time to work. Defenders are too fast and too strong so the only QBs that can really excel are a particular prototype that is very rare. And while the rules are very friendly for offenses in general the rules for offensive linemen are very tough. Not being able to flinch and not being able to hold or put hands to the face are all very longstanding rules that are well intentioned, but have made the game tilt to defensive lines.

It compounds over a game. Receivers run dozens of routes where the QBs don’t even have a chance to see them make their breaks.

One thing that feels like it has been the case the last year or so is that so often when an offense in a close game has that big backbreaking play that wins the game, what is it? It feels like it is almost always a scramble now.
 

rymflaherty

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I think #1, by far, is the line issues. Specifically the issues now with scouting college players and transitioning them to the professional game. The differences are that extreme.

But since that’s been mentioned, there’s one more thing I’ve been ruminating on throughout this season and that’s the amount of influence the McVay and Shanahan offenses and their coaching trees have had.
When most teams look for a new OC/scheme it seems this is more often than not the first place they look, and there’s multiple ways that can negatively affect things. For instance, the more teams that run a similar scheme, the easier it is to gameplan for them. The more teams that run a similar scheme also dilutes the player pool, as their are certain archetypes prioritized and there inevitably aren’t enough to go around.
Yet still, most coaches shoehorn in their system, attempting to recreate a style of offense that doesn’t fit the personal they actually have. (Aside - I am thankful McDaniel does not fit into this category. If he did, he’d be forcing Tua under center)

Like I said, just something I’ve been thinking about, so figured I’d throw it out there. To me it’s not that low scoring = bad football. It’s bad football when every play looks like a jail break and the offense doesn’t have a chance….or it’s the SNF game a couple weeks ago when Pickett was something like 21-26 for 140 yards and the team had 6 points. Those type of stat lines are more and more common, and it’s what led me to start thinking about the McVay/Shanahan influence, as teams try to run these hyper efficient passing games and it’s not successful with the personal they have, instead it’s moving the ball 4 yards at a time until they make a mistake or the line fails.And at least for me, that’s created an often boring brand of football.
 

Humphrey

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Like I said, just something I’ve been thinking about, so figured I’d throw it out there. To me it’s not that low scoring = bad football. It’s bad football when every play looks like a jail break and the offense doesn’t have a chance….or it’s the SNF game a couple weeks ago when Pickett was something like 21-26 for 140 yards and the team had 6 points. Those type of stat lines are more and more common, and it’s what led me to start thinking about the McVay/Shanahan influence, as teams try to run these hyper efficient passing games and it’s not successful with the personal they have, instead it’s moving the ball 4 yards at a time until they make a mistake or the line fails.And at least for me, that’s created an often boring brand of football.
Nothing worse than a critical third or fourth down and short (say, 3 yds or less) and the pass thrown makes it nearly impossible for the receiver to get the required yardage.
 

joe dokes

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Yeah, from the eye test it’s the o lines. There are just not enough good offensive linemen to fill out 32 teams and to overcome injury. QBs just cannot have any time to work. Defenders are too fast and too strong so the only QBs that can really excel are a particular prototype that is very rare. And while the rules are very friendly for offenses in general the rules for offensive linemen are very tough. Not being able to flinch and not being able to hold or put hands to the face are all very longstanding rules that are well intentioned, but have made the game tilt to defensive lines.

It compounds over a game. Receivers run dozens of routes where the QBs don’t even have a chance to see them make their breaks.

One thing that feels like it has been the case the last year or so is that so often when an offense in a close game has that big backbreaking play that wins the game, what is it? It feels like it is almost always a scramble now.
Maybe the bolded is the maturation of the "adjustment" that teams (head coaches, d-coordinators, drafters) have made in response to the way offenses changed. Maybe there's a limit to what a "spread"-type offense (or those that excelled at it in college) can do in the NFL. Are a lot of the formerly potential "big-uglies" (as Keith Jackson used to call them) *losing* 30 pounds rather than gaining them and turning into Kyle Duggars, rather than Vince Wilforks? As defenses get bigger (away from the line) *and* faster, maybe the weakest link in the chain is whether the o-lines can keep up and that breaking point is nearing. Not in terms of offensive failure, necessarily, but in the difficulty of finding o-line depth. Like starting pitching, 5 is not enough. Again, research I cant figure out, but is the number of o-lines that have played together for virtually every offensive snap still a thing? If not, is the "new" offense a cause?

EDIT: I dont think there are definitive answers to these questions. There are 22 players on the field condensed into a tiny area. Its pretty hard to isolate causes and effects like that.
 
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ragnarok725

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I'm also wondering whether another contributor to the decline in OL play is an improvement on the DL/LB side. This is more of a casual fan's observation, but it seems like teams are employing fewer big guys who are zeroes in pass rush, and more quick DLs and pass rush specialists, and then deploying and rotating them more frequently, even on early downs. The quickness on the edges obviously helps with speed moves, but I see the Pats crushing teams with stunt movements and LB blitzes. The pressures seem to come from a combination of scheme and an overall increase in quickness as much or moreso than blown assignments or poor play from the OLs.

Again, anecdotally - mostly from Patriots games, it also seems like OLs are getting less help. QBs are holding the ball longer and trying to make things happen or scramble, and RBs and TEs are weaker and (fractionally) less frequently held in on pass protection.