Last week NFL analyst and writer Andy Benoit from The New York Times elaborated on the evolution of the NFL’s style of play that is occurring. His three part series focuses on the fact that the NFL has evolved into a passing league in which a star quarterback is a necessity. He explained that the running back position is not vanishing but is simply changing while quarterbacks are carrying more weight and left tackles are not as significant as the movie The Blind Side made them seem. He also discussed how modern defenses must adjust to this increase in offensive trickiness.
In part one, focusing on the quarterback position, he presents some very interesting and convincing statistics that show the importance teams are now placing on the proverbial head of the team. He states, “28 of the 32 starting N.F.L. quarterbacks entering 2012 will have either been drafted in the first round or will be playing under a contract worth at least $20 million guaranteed.” Many defenses in the league are running 2-4-5 sets instead of their usual 3-4 or 4-3 which allows more flexible and effective pass protection.
An element that an elite quarterback presents is the ability to hide deficiencies in other areas of the team to a greater degree than other players can. Benoit exemplifies this concept by mentioning the respective quarterbacks who make up for “the Patriots’ defense, the Packers and their so-so running backs, the Saints offensive tackles or the Manningless Colts and their 'everything else' last year.”
Benoit also analyzes other positions that are directly affected by this change. He explains that successful wide receivers aren’t restricted to specific roles but are much more flexible in their abilities. The same goes for running backs, who aren’t expected to have the same build as their predecessors from a few decades ago. Instead they must be more agile and versatile. These are two positions that are beginning to merge.
Two other positions that Benoit expects to merge are linebacker and safety. Improved versatility at each of these positions allows for a lack in mismatches that the offense hopes to create. We are beginning to see linebackers who are proficient at coverage and safeties skilled at playing the run and adept at tackling.
Like all sports, football is forever evolving. Over time, offensive players have become more athletic causing defenses to do the same in turn. Now that the league is saturated with elite athletes from around the country, coaches must become smarter in order to outwit their opponents. This constant cat and mouse game between offenses and defenses will continue to dictate the ideal qualities that future players must possess.
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