Waive that flag: The NFL returns with zebras on parade

nfl flag

The NFL’s back, and oh man is it boring. Last night’s Chiefs-Patriots game, the first of the 2017 regular season, should have been exciting. Kansas City hung close with the defending champions in Foxboro until they pulled away later in the fourth quarter. What should have been a compelling contest instead dragged. The third quarter alone took nearly an hour. Even if the NFL has eliminated the touchdown-commercial-PAT-commercial-kickoff-commercial sequence, the penalty flags literally are getting out of hand too often.

The last five minutes of the third quarter was comprised of fifteen plays from scrimmage. Officials threw flags on seven of them.

KC NE 09072017 3Q

If it seems to you like penalty flags are on the rise, you aren’t wrong. From the NFL Penalty Tracker, a website I just found:

nfl penalty flag data 9-8-17

The 2017 data comes from one game, of course, but the referees were significantly more active last night as compared to an average game last season.

Another interesting point in that penalty-flag data is the jump in total flags beginning in 2014. It isn’t immediately obvious to me why that happened (here‘s a list of rule changes heading into that season), so I’ll just quote from my Super Bowl XLVII preview post:

Call it the Efficient Breach Bowl. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Seattle defense is so successful against the pass, in part, because they just don’t care about being penalized for pass interference. They know that officials won’t call PI on every single play (and the number of penalties called in the playoffs is significantly lower than during the regular season), so they take their lumps with a few flags over the course of a game, disrupting receiver routes all the while. In a follow-up article in advance of the Super Bowl, the Journal suggests that Denver may look to combat Seattle’s aggressive secondary through so-called “pick plays,” in which receivers run routes designed to shed defenders by drawing them into collisions with another player. Though subject to recent controversy following a play in the AFC Championship game that resulted in a game-ending injury for New England corner Aqib Talib, picks or “rub routes” are not necessarily against the rules. As The MMQB’s Greg Bedard explained, the key question is whether the offensive player initiated the contact or whether the contact was incidental: “within one yard of the line of scrimmage, anything goes . . . but beyond that one-yard buffer it is illegal for an offensive player to initiate contact with a defender.”

The Seahawks won that Super Bowl (if you can name the MVP of that game without looking, I’ll send you some ALDLAND merchandise), so it isn’t unreasonable to speculate that other teams would mimic their aggressive defensive approach beginning in the next season, thereby triggering more penalty flags leaguewide, but I haven’t looked at an offensive/defensive breakdown of those numbers in the table above.

For years, people have been predicting that football would end as a result of its potential for dangerous, lasting injury, including brain injury, but we need to consider the possibility that a different and more immediate market force– boredom– might trigger its decline even sooner.

Detroit Lions 2016 Wild Card preview

stafford-finger-before-after

Head coach Jim Caldwell has the Detroit Lions back in the playoffs for the second time in his three-year tenure. After ending the season with three consecutive losses, the Lions (9-7) will play the Seahawks tonight in Seattle in the first NFC wild card game, which kicks off at 8:15 Eastern on NBC.

Detroit’s playoff history in the Super Bowl era isn’t pretty. In the fifty seasons since the 1966 merger, the Lions have appeared in the postseason in just twelve of those seasons, winning just one game.

That one win, a 38-6 dismantling of the Dallas Cowboys on January 5, 1992, also was the last NFL playoff game hosted in Detroit, and one of only two ever in the Super Bowl era (not counting games, like Super Bowl XL, in which the Lions, obviously, did not participate).

The national press picked up on an interesting narrative following that win, which featured Barry Sanders, of course, and also Erik Kramer, whom they highlighted as “a strikebreaker,” or, in the words of Cowboys defenders Jack Del Rio (now the head coach of the Oakland Raiders, who have an AFC wildcard meeting with the Houston Texans this afternoon) and Tony Casillas, “a scab.” Kramer had played for Atlanta as a replacement player during the 1987 NFL strike, something that upset apparent union tough guys Del Rio and Casillas and, the New York Times postulated, Kramer’s ostensible supporters in the center of the UAW universe (“this grizzled, battered town, this blue-collar, lunch-bucket town”). The on-field performances by Kramer, who had claimed the starting job after starting the season as the team’s third quarterback, and Sanders that day erased any internal concerns that might have troubled the Honolulu blue and silver faithful, however. They also silenced Del Rio:

Del Rio kept up the verbal barrage during the game, or part of it, anyway.

“I didn’t hear him make any more remarks after the first quarter, said Kramer.”

Detroit only led 7-3 at the end of that first quarter, but Dallas already had amassed half of the points it would score all day. Kramer threw three touchdown passes, Sanders finished the day with a forty-seven-yard TD run, and the Lions defense even got in on the scoring action, when Mel Jenkins intercepted starting Dallas QB Steve Beuerlein and ran it back for six. By at least this one measure– Super-Bowl era playoff wins– then, Kramer might be considered the Lions best-ever playcaller.

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This time around, the Lions quarterback again is the lead story. Matthew Stafford has struggled somewhat since injuring the middle finger on his throwing hand (pictured above, both pre- and post-injury). He claims he doesn’t rely much on that finger for gripping the ball, but the injury can’t help. Nor do recent injuries to other key contributors like DeAndre Levy, Marvin Jones, Ezekiel Ansah, Travis Swanson, and Riley Reiff, all of whom are likely to be game-time decisions. It also is not clear whether the team has a running back, although the emergence of Zach Zenner has caught the eye of at least one Seahawk defensive lineman.

While Detroit’s nine wins came on the back of a weak schedule, the Seahawks (10-5-1) also had some bad losses this year, dropping games to the Rams and Saints and going 0-1-1 against the disappointing Cardinals. They are coming off a win in Week 17, but they barely scraped by two-win San Francisco. This has not quite been the dominant Seahawks squad of recent seasons. Still, they best the Lions in all of the usual statistical categories and are 7-1 at home, where the game will be played tonight. (The Lions were 3-5 on the road this season.)

Any pieces of good news at this point are going to be small, but a notable one is the absence of Earl Thomas, one of Seattle’s best defenders, who will not play due to a leg injury. Seattle’s aggressive defensive tendencies also may help twist this piece of seemingly bad news into good news:

Lions fans are upset because Brad Allen, who calls a lot of penalties and officiated two Detroit losses and no wins, will be refereeing this game. Caldwell isn’t worried about the NFL assigning Allen to this game, though, and neither am I, because I think, in general, playoff games are officiated differently; Allen will have a completely different crew under his supervision; and, despite Seattle’s 2-1 record in Allen games, Seattle’s defensive strategy shouldn’t mesh well with a referee who throws a lot of flags. Their “efficient-breach” approach allows them to be aggressive, because they know that, even if their defenders commit pass interference or defensive holding on most every play, the officials won’t flag it every time. It therefore might not be a bad thing if Allen and his crew called more penalties in this game, so long as they do so fairly.

Another matchup to watch will be the Detroit defensive line against the Seattle offensive line, the latter being the only real Seahawk weakness. In a disappointing year from Ansah, the Lions haven’t made waves in the pass-rush department, but a breakout day from the fourth-year defensive end could be a difference-maker today.

It’s going to be a long and loud afternoon in Seattle, where a wintry mix has been in and out of the forecast. It will be tough sledding for these battered Lions. Here’s hoping they find a new gear and, once again, give their fans a reason to celebrate in January.

Super Bowl XLIX Preview

It’s like Publix, but more restrictive. Unless Bdoyk drops by to rep her Patriots, we’re going to be light on the Super Bowl previewing for this season. Part of the reason I think it’s hard for impartial fans to be excited about this game is that the ancillary trappings finally seem to have swallowed the game itself. Ray Rice. Adrian Peterson. Deflated balls. The media on Marshawn Lynch not wanting to talk to the media. The NFL making like 1Ls on a torts exam trying to concoct some way to fine Lynch for his media day appearance. Head injuries and premature player deaths. Even the abysmal NFC South. To say quite possibly the least, this hasn’t been the most fun or intriguing NFL season.

As a result, ALDLAND’s Super Bowl XLIX preview will consist of the following:

Get excited.

The Super Bowl starts at 6:30 pm on Sunday.

Comprehensive Super Bowl XLVIII Preview

As you can see from the above graphic, this year’s Super Bowl, already dubbed the Snow & States’ Marketing Rights Bowl, pits New York against New Jersey in a battle for subpar beach superiority. You do not have subpar taste, however, because you’re reading ALDLAND’s Super Bowl preview, the only one you’ll need to prepare yourself for the game on Sunday. What follows is a compilation of the most interesting, entertaining, and essential Super Bowl XLVIII content, concluding with the least interesting, entertaining, and essential Super Bowl XLVIII content, my game prediction:

  • First and most important: the game begins at 6:30 Eastern on Fox.

ALDLAND Podcast

It’s an (almost) all-bowl edition of the ALDLAND Podcast. After touching on some Grammy related issues and brainstorming ideas on how to improve the Pro Bowl, we launch into a discussion of the two big bowls next weekend: the Puppy and Super Bowls. Also included is discussion of Super Bowl food choices.

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Download the ALDLAND podcast at our Podcasts Page or stream it right here:

Richard Sherman is not the new standard-bearer for on-field, postgame NFL playoff interviews

Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman is the center of attention today after his candid, on-field interview with Erin Andrews following the Seahawks’ NFC championship win over the San Francisco 49ers. While most people are declaring it either the best or worst such interview, the truth is that it’s neither, and I would prefer to hear or read no more about it.

After the New York Jets beat the New England Patriots in a 2011 AFC divisional playoff game, Bart Scott delivered a masterpiece that continues to define the genre:

No one, including Richard Sherman, has come close since.

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Related
To Those Who Would Call Me a Thug or Worse…, by Richard Sherman for The MMQB
Can We Please Stop Talking About Class and Sports?, by Clay Travis for OKTC

Previously
Online sports media critics: When Colin Cowherd starts to make sense, it’s time to reevaluate your approach

Tuesday Afternoon Inside Linebacker

fairleyALDLAND’s weekly football roundup is back, taking a look at all the highs and lows of the latest round of football action.

College Football

Pregame:

  • In anticipation of the LSU-UGA game, a secret-recipe cheesy bean dip was made. So much was made, in fact, that it lasted much longer than the game, although not quite as long as Georgia coach Mark Richt spent kissing his wife following a win over Kentucky.

The games:

  • LSU-Georgia was a thriller. Georgia continues to lose important players to injury, but it doesn’t seem to slow them down. This week, star running back Todd Gurley sprained his ankle in the second quarter, but backup Keith Marshall filled in and had a career day. In the end, the Dwags outgunned the Tigers 44-41 and are in the driver’s seat on the road to the SEC championship game in Atlanta.
  • I also thought Ole Miss-Alabama would be a good game, but it was not. The Rebels limited Alabama’s scoring early, but they were unable to do any scoring of their own, which is an easy-bake recipe for a loss. Ole Miss 0, Alabama 25.     Continue reading

Tuesday Afternoon Inside Linebacker

tailALDLAND’s weekly football roundup is back following week three of college football and week two of the NFL.

College Football

Pregame:

  • I caught snippets of ESPN College Gameday and Fox Sports 1’s college football pregame shows. Gameday remains the leader of the pack, but I’d like more time to see how FS1’s show develops. In the meantime, I’ll join FS1’s Joel Klatt in sending good wishes to the folks in Colorado dealing with major flooding right now.

The games — excitement building:

  • With a couple East Carolina fans in town, we watched the Pirates hang with Virginia Tech for about three quarters. The Hokies did all they could, including badly missing a bunch of close kicks, to hand ECU the game. Frank Beamer looked like he wanted to puke, but his team managed to hold it together in the end. Virginia Tech 15, East Carolina 10.
  • We were flipping between that game and UCLA-Nebraska. When I first checked in on this one, Nebraska had a 21-3 lead, and it looked like the best early game of the day would not materialize into a competitive affair. That turned out to be sort of true, but not in the way I expected. UCLA scored thirty-eight unanswered points to beat the now-mythological blackshirt defense in Lincoln 41-21.
  • The game of the day belonged to Alabama and Texas A&M, and it lived up to the hype. Johnny Manziel and the Aggies started very hot, jumping out to a 14-0 lead and choking the Tide’s early drives. A&M scored touchdowns on its first two drives, which averaged 71.5 yards and 2:06 off the clock. Alabama responded, though, methodically amassing thirty-five temporarily unanswered points and carried a 42-21 lead into the fourth quarter. The Aggie defense had yielded to The System, but Manziel wasn’t through, although twenty-one fourth-quarter points wouldn’t be enough to top Alabama. The Crimson Tide remain undefeated, winning 49-42, but Manziel unequivocally proved that he is must-see football every time he plays, and his cohort, receiver Mike Evans, deserves some credit too.     Continue reading

The NFL’s disorderly priorities in one image

We already know that the NFL has some twisted priorities, but this image from last night’s 49ers-Seahawks game offers a convenient visual perspective:

There was a penalty called on this play, thankfully. Can you find it? If you guessed that it has something to do with the concussed guy face-down on the turf, you would be wrong. Seattle receiver Sidney Rice was flagged for celebrating his catch by spinning the ball on the ground. The penalty made it as though the play never happened, which is probably what San Francisco defender Eric Reid thinks.

If league policy continues to develop along its current trajectory, there soon may be very little to celebrate about this game.