- - Wednesday, November 21, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Some fans who watched Monday night’s game after not watching games for a long while, might think they missed a memo. When did the NFL change its name to the New Football League?

The name is the same. But the sport is different, at least as played by the Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs in their 54-51 scoring spree. It makes you wonder whether those teams and Washington’s team play under common rules.

All 32 teams use the same rule book (more on that later). But the personnel and coaching are wildly divergent. If the likes of, say, Blake Bortles and Hue Jackson form the quarterback-head coach combo, the offense will resemble the Rams and Chiefs not at all, even less without dynamic talents like Tyreek Hill, Brandin Cooks, Todd Gurley and Kareem Hunt.

That’s why we should slow down on all the “new NFL” talk. At least until more teams have coaches as imaginative and creative as Sean McVay and Andy Reid, molding young gunslingers like Jared Goff and Patrick Mahomes. (Never forget that Goff started seven games under Jeff Fisher and was considered a bust as the Rams won none of them.)

Three consecutive Jets-Raiders match-ups could fall short of the production we witnessed in the Rams-Chiefs affair. Washington, in its 10th game, experienced a lead change last week for the first time this season.

On “Monday Night Football,” the lead changed hands four times in the fourth quarter alone.

Even with the leaguewide uptick in scoring, the Rams-Chiefs output each quarter approximated final tallies we’ve seen in other games this season: 13-7, 16-10, 17-7 and 21-14. Tennessee and Jacksonville treated us to a 9-6 thriller in Week 3. Washington snared an epic road win in Week 10, 16-3 against Tampa Bay.

However, prolific teams like the Rams, Chiefs and New Orleans Saints — the latter averaging a league-leading 37.8 points per game — are more toward the NFL’s liking. High scoring is geared to happen by design nowadays, for two different reasons:

It’s more aesthetically pleasing and less hazardous to players’ health.

Which brings us to the NFL rule book.

Sports’ records and statistics generally don’t come with asterisks, but astute fans understand that dissimilar conditions produce dissimilar results. Track & field gets it completely, duly noting the effect of wind on certain events.

But in football, basketball and baseball, we merely make a mental note of each era.

“Pistol” Pete Maravich averaged 44.5 points per game during his college career at LSU — without the benefit of a 3-point line. Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs for the San Francisco Giants in 2001 — with the benefit of chemical enhancement.

Of the seven halfbacks in the 2,000-yard-rusher club, all except O.J. Simpson had the advantage of 16-game seasons. When Drew Pearson led the NFL with 870 receiving yards in 1977, he did so without the existence of illegal contact penalties.

The following season, when defensive backs were prohibited from mauling receivers downfield, Wesley Walker led the league with 1,169 yards receiving. The NFL achieved its desired effect, opening up the passing game and reducing conservative play calling.

Now, recent safety rules on how and when defenders can hit opponents — especially quarterbacks and receivers — have taken offense to a new level.

Defensive players have been reduced to supporting actors. They get an opportunity to shine through sacks and takeaways, but they understand that the other side of the ball plays the leading role.

“Man, we know,” Rams defensive lineman Michael Brockers said Monday via Yahoo.com. “The rules are skewed to the offense. We know we can’t touch them past two yards. If you’ve got a hand on them, it’s holding. So hey, we know the deal. I do feel bad defensively, yeah. But the league, that’s what they want.”

Part of me feels sorry for defensive players.

The offensive surge isn’t simply an evolution of skill, like basketball players improving their dribble-drive and their 3-point shot. It’s not hitters perfecting launch angles or pitchers adding a split-finger fastball.

Regardless of what defenders work on and get better at, everything is stacked against them, from helmet-to-helmet hits and roughing-the-passer calls, to the reduction of official practice time — which impacts them far more negatively than it does quarterbacks and receivers.

“Welcome to the new NFL when it comes to defensive football,” former New England linebacker Tedy Bruschi wrote on Twitter after the Rams and Chiefs combined for 105 points and 1,001 yards. “Offenses will move the ball and score.”

At least that’s the plan.

But as evidenced by several teams, including Washington, there’s still a way to go before the NFL routinely looks like the Big 12.

As exciting as Monday’s game was, I hope we never reach the point where it becomes the new normal. That would make Rams-Chiefs less than exceptional.

And that would be a shame.

Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.


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