Throwing the football without regard for the consequences it may bring has become the rage in the National Football League.
Quarterbacks are posting numbers that belie the difficulty of playing the position and records are going up in flames. Although many people continue to accurately call the NFL a passing league, I see a league in a state of philosophical flux.
Teams are returning to the concept of a balanced offense in the name of winning games. The Houston Texans and the New England Patriots lead the league in rushing attempts, respectively, and both teams are in the running for a Super Bowl appearance. Although many teams aren’t experiencing the success the Texans and Patriots are in the win-loss column, one thing is clear: running the football well helps to win games and is making a comeback.
But this Hammer & Cudgel brand of football speaks more to personnel than it does to any particular philosophy or axiom of the game. Offensive coordinators and head coaches are coming to the realization they can’t turn Joe Normal into Peyton (or Eli) Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady. It’s not the passing tree that works, it’s the person throwing the ball that makes it work and when I say “work” I mean win games.
And that’s why this philosophy is reappearing; It’s no longer about winning the hearts and minds of owners, analysts and fantasy football fans, it’s about winning games. You can’t look like a genius running the football and too many coordinators and head coaches have concerned themselves with looking like a genius instead of just winning football games.
There are quarterbacks in the league that are posting career numbers and having success but they’re not winning games. They may throw for 300+ yards but turnovers typically come with prolific passing numbers and those turnovers lose games. Head coaches are swallowing their pride and realizing balance may be the best way to go after all — especially if you have a defense.
This rushing renaissance, this newfound balance in the game is spearheaded by the NFC West, the most brutal division in football. The Arizona Cardinals should embrace this truth and adapt.
In a gross simplification of the facts, the San Francisco 49ers went to an NFC Championship Game by rushing the football, using play-action, protecting the football and letting their defense and special teams win games for them. And although they have made a QB change in the Bay, they are repeating the same formula and winning games again this year.
Seattle ripped off Jim Harbaugh and is doing the same thing in the sound. The Seahawks have rushed the ball almost 400 times this season while only allowing Russell Wilson to throw the ball 317 times. Wilson is not putting up gaudy numbers but he is playing extremely well in a balanced attack that features Marshawn Lynch and…he’s winning games. Seattle’s defense is potent and their special teams, like San Francisco, are a strength.
Jeff Fisher sees talent in Sam Bradford but refuses to let the kid carry the burden of throwing the ball 45 times a game. The Rams have a balanced approach in St. Louis and run the ball better than they throw it. This is Jeff Fisher creed, a belief they have the pieces to compete with anyone in the league if they protect the ball and don’t expose their QB to error. Fish keeps Bradford in a three-dimensional, balanced attack where he can protect the football and let their improving defense compete.
The Cardinals have the defensive core to build around for years to come and should mimic what the rest of the division is doing. Calais Campbell, Daryl Washington, Patrick Peterson, Sam Acho and Dan Williams give the Cardinals a chance to be an excellent defense year-in and year-out.
And having an excellent defense is critical to the balanced attack philosophy. It doesn’t make sense to run the ball if your defense is giving up points on the other end. All that does is shorten the game, reduce your margin of error, and make every possession seem like a do-or-die proposition in the second-halves of games.
Suddenly, if you have a defense, finding Peyton Manning doesn’t seem to be the end-all-be-all of an organization. Teams can use quarterbacks that are serviceable. Teams can win with Q’s that know how to protect the football and have good play-action mechanics. Teams don’t have to find rare talent at the QB position and this changes the philosophy of the entire organization.
If Big Red can draft a LT and move Levi Brown to RG in 2013, they could improve their offensive line tenfold. Brown is still the Cardinals best run-blocker and if he has the feet to play LT — which he does — holding up in protection at guard would be a given. This move would certainly stabilize the interior of the Cardinals offense, improve the running game and allow a capable quarterback to prosper.
Yes, the Cardinals need to find a QB (so do 20 other teams in the league). But, if Kevin Kolb could have stayed healthy and continued to play at the level he was in the first four weeks of the season (and that’s a big if), I believe the Cardinals would be 7-5 at the very minimum, beating Minnesota, Atlanta and NY.
I don’t say this to make excuses for the Cardinals; they lost those games, are 4-8 and in troubled waters. I say this to prove my point: the Cardinals don’t have to find the next Kurt Warner, Joe Normal will do.