Ground, Pound…Sugar, Spice, and Everything Golden

San Francisco’s tough win in a battle of ground-and-pound football against the Seattle Seahawks is though-provoking.

In this, the Golden Age of Quarterbacks, we see Madden-style statistics thrown up by quarterbacks and wide receivers. Part of it can be contributed to the gross over-officiating and constricting rules against defenses in today’s NFL. As a fan, it’s fun to watch games with high scores and huge catches in pivotal moments of games. But how much is it spoiling the casual viewer of American football to gear the game towards commercially-accepted, on-field numbers?

Football, since it was invented, has always been one of the most body-damaging sports played in North America (sorry hockey, bad dental work does not equate to rough play). The greats of decades ago were renowned for their toughness and their ability to break tackles and hit with fury. This was the intent of the game: a way for big, strong men to duke it out in the name of victory, and scrawny, unable men like myself to sit and home, watch, and feel the same thrill. It’s not a sport for the faint hearted.

I can still remember watching NFL Films on NFL Network showing the brutal beauty of football. Watching heads get knocked around, tough defense, ground games pounding through tackles is all so inspiring. NFC North teams gutting each other on the field, Earl Campbell running through block after crushing block for the Houston Oilers, Dick Butkus knocking the crap out of quarterbacks, those were the days.

The Heart of a Wimp
Lately though, it’s hard to find games that show this kind of toughness. It’s all ballerina wide receivers in tu-tus and quarterbacks with a 5 yard force field that, if penetrated, is a 15-yard penalty and an automatic first down. I haven’t seen a really brutal, black-and-blue game in a long time. As much as I love those high-scoring, Tom Brady vs. Swiss Cheese games, I love a win in a grind. It’s all plastic and fake now.

And for what? Better ratings and more money? Screw it. I’m sure Calvin Johnson can take a hit. I’m sure Mike Vick wouldn’t be more than pulp in yesterday’s NFL. In Vick’s case, the Eagles might be better off.

I respect guys like Ben Roethlisberger. I hate his freaking guts, but he ain’t no fruit cake against numerous blockers. He can take a hit, and he can throw the football AND complete the pass while taking the shot. He’s famous among NFL defenses for being one of the toughest quarterbacks in the league to bring down. He’s a player who could survive in any decade of the game’s existence. Can you say that about more than five quarterbacks in the league? Probably not.

And it’s a shame, because if teams looked for stronger, more durable quarterbacks, we wouldn’t have a problem with defenses attacking the NFL’s golden boys so much. It would be an even playing field on all sides and games would still be exciting. Why? Because players would be capable to win games without the help of the league.

If Michael Vick played in the 1970’s, he’d be done halfway through his rookie season. If Tom Brady was on the Patriots against the ’85 Bears 46 defense in Super Bowl XX, he might be paralyzed (not from physical harm, probably just from the idea of Mike Singletary charging towards him with the eyes of a bull). If Mark Sanchez played in the 1960’s in place of Joe Namath…I think with that, you can start carving his tomb stone and digging a hole for his bones halfway to China.

The Way Of The Game
Because of the emphasis on offensive juggernauts, scoring has gone up around the league and as a result, so have individual stats. But the problem with everyone being super…is that no one is super (“The Incredibles” reference? I think so). No matter how many points you put up, it’s the same goal: win.

If you put up 35 and the other team puts up 38, you won’t be rewarded for five touchdowns. You still lose. Your quarterback can throw for 450 yards and 3 TD’s, but what happens when your ground game is lackluster and the other quarterback throws 4 TD’s? You lose…right?

Um, yes. By seven.

It’s all about the wins. The league doesn’t care about field goals. They don’t care about good, hard-fought battles. They care about stats and points, and it’s hurting the game more than we know.

I don’t care who your quarterback is if your team isn’t winning games. Drew Brees is producing like his usual self, yet his team is 2-4. Sure, you can say it’s because of the bounty scandal and the way it rocked the team. They took away Sean Payton, the heart of their officiating unit. But they also took away the quarterback of their defense in LB Johnathan Vilma and it has caused the team to lose games that their offense has kept them in. It’s all checks and balances.

We Can Only Hope
Personally, I’d love to see Super Bowl XLVII played between the Seattle Seahawks/San Francisco 49ers vs. the Houston Texans. Why? Because all three of those teams rely on their defenses and their running games to win. Their quarterbacks are a part of the team as opposed to being the team. They are groups of men who play all three phases of the game and emphasize the importance of all of them equally.

But this match-up, in all likeliness, is impossible in 2012.
With all due respect to the teams above (and the latter two I mentioned are favorites to win it all), the team on the other side is going to have a top-5 passing offense with a middle-to-bottom tier defense, like the Green Bay Packers or the Baltimore Ravens.

Frankly, I’m appalled at how little chance I’m giving my own hopes and dreams for the Super Bowl this year (as I turn the lights off in my room, close the blinds, and sit in a corner in fetal position waiting for the apocalypse). This isn’t the way it should be. I’m sticking by my picks, and most people around the league would feel the same, I’m sure. But the fact is that the NFL is making it almost impossible for teams who reflect the Golden Days of 1960’s, 70’s, ground-and-pound football to make deep playoff runs. The last six Super Bowls were won by teams with elite QB’s. Not top-tier defenses. Not big-time running backs. Quarterbacks. Lots of scoring. It’s these factors that make the new look NFL hard to swallow.

I think I’ve made my point. The world is slowly coming to an end with the over-filling of the hot-air balloons that are the enormity of modern NFL offenses. 

My best wishes to teams that are trying to revive the traditions of old football. Please, for the love of all that is holy and non Goodell-a-fied, win a Super Bowl and restore balance in the world.

It’s all falling apart slowly.

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Week 4 Quick Hits (Pre-SNF)

Here’s what we’ve learned from Week 4 thus far:

1) Russell Wilson is inconsistent as a passer. The Seahawks need to realize that teams now have knowledge about Wilson that they didn’t before, and it’s going to keep hampering his development since they don’t open the playbook and allow him some freedom to learn to read defenses and call audibles. Wilson is a rookie, but he’s a big boy. Pete Carroll can ask more of him. If he can’t, then Matt Flynn should get his shot at the starting job again.

2) The Houston Texans are top notch. This team is nothing even closely resembling “the team of next year” that they’ve been labelled as for the past few seasons. The defense has carried over their dominant game from last year and have come out of the Mario Williams loss with J.J. Watt, who is proving to be the new bright spot on that line. Gary Kubiak is one of only a few head coaches left in the league who doesn’t dump the running game the moment it falters. He realizes the importance of using the run to set up the pass doesn’t just regard it as aging art. It helps to have Arian Foster as your running back, as it helps Matt Schaub to continue to be efficient. When WR Andre Johnson is benefiting from the run game, it’s a sign that you’ve found your identity. The Texans are looking like the Super Bowl favorites that I’ve had all hope for.

3) How are the Arizona Cardinals 4-0?! Seriously, this team came in with most analysts predicting a season under .500, and they’re dominating teams with a stifling defense and a quarterback who, since last season, looked like the second coming of George W. Bush if he was running an offense (decoded: that’s pretty crappy). I didn’t doubt the Cardinals ability, but certainly they’ve made the NFC West a much more competitive division. But…SERIOUSLY?! THE FREAKIN’ CARDINALS?? I’m going to go sign up for a straight-jacket.

4) It’s a great time to be Matt Ryan. Most experts were expecting Ryan to have a coming out last season with WR Julio Jones coming out of the draft to compliment WR Roddy White. He didn’t do enough to avoid a 24-2 loss to the New York Giants in the playoff last season. This season, however, even if he made breakfast with garden mulch, it would be the most beautiful crap the world had ever seen. Even if the rest of the season doesn’t quite match up this pace, Ryan should be considered the favorite to win the NFL MVP award. Imagine this team without him and running under someone like…Curtis Painter?

5) Tim Tebow will get his start barring one more bad game by Mark Sanchez. It was really only a matter of time. This is the start of the Jets’ realization that the team is better off with a QB who can barely throw and win, than a pretty-boy QB who can model in GQ looking like a complete turd and lose (frankly, only Tom Brady can pose for magazines. He’s not beautiful, but at least he wins). I fear that Tebow will be a journeyman quarterback if Sanchez starts doing well now. But frankly, Tebow inspires more confidence in his teammates than Marky-dork. I’m not just some impatient fan. Simply put, you know what you know. Tebow, despite his flaws, is a winner.

6) San Francisco is the most complete team in the NFC. It’s been 9 months since the 49ers proved their dominance by going to the NFC Championship Game, and from there the questions had begun to circle around about whether they could keep it up for more than just one season or flop and go 5-11. This year, they’ve started off by being one of the best all-around teams in the league. RB Frank Gore is still a power runner and a force in the offense. QB Alex Smith is moving away from the “game manager” title and towards simply being highly efficient and effective, avoiding turnovers and putting his team in a position to win every game. And that defense is still stifling as ever, shutting out the New York Jets (who put up the fight of a half-built jet). This is a testament to the blue-collar mentality that Head Coach Jim Harbaugh has implemented since last season. It’s a hard hitting, tough nosed team that doesn’t quit.

7) San Diego is…odd. They don’t seem to display…anything. If anything, they’re still a barely above-average team that’s had a fast start. Phillip Rivers is playing well, but he’s not scaring defenses like he used to. MVP chants used to fill Qualcomm Stadium. No more. The defense is tough to run against, but Falcons’ RB Michael Turner moved the ball efficiently on the ground. Plus, RB Ryan Mathews is seeming more and more like the main reason most Americans can’t afford basic health care. Being injured seems to be the only thing he’s consistent at. Until they can find a reliable back for that offense, the Chargers’ offense will be static, not really moving anywhere.

8) New Orleans isn’t good. There’s no getting around it. They suck. Hard. Losing to an emotional Green Bay Packers team the way that they did is admirable. Losing to the Panthers and the Chiefs is something other-worldly. Now we, as fans, realize how much Sean Payton means to that team. The defense is made of swiss cheese. Kansas City RB Jamaal Charles ran wild against them last week for 233 yards and two touchdowns including a 91-yard touchdown run on 33 carries. Their offense isn’t bad, but it’s not winning games for them either. QB Drew Brees was supposed to be the on-field offensive coordinator, but he’s simply not creating a spark that the Saints direly need. If anyone predicted a sub-.500 record for this team, they’ll be partying hard on Bourbon Street with their winnings.

9) The Cleveland Browns are pretty decent. No, the Super Bowl is as far away from them as I am from asking the hot girl out who is sitting across the room from me at this cafe. Yeah, that’s like walking to Mars. But QB Brandon Weeden shows flashes of a rookie who can be one of the better players in the league one day soon. He managed the game against Baltimore well and kept his team competitive until the last play. And that’s what you want to see out of your leader. Plus, a Ravens offense that scored 44 points against the Cincinnati Bengals (who are not good, but hang with me for a sec) only scored 24 points against the Browns. That’s not a huge number considering the dreadful losses they’ve suffered at the hands of weaker teams in years’ past. There’s hope for this team. Not now, but in coming years. Stay tuned.

10) Speaking of the Bengals, how ’bout that O? Andy Dalton is not Tom Brady, but he’s making games easier to win for this team. Answering questions about his arm strength (or supposed lack thereof) with big throws to his WR on a weekly basis, the Big Red Gun is making a point in the NFL that he can win season-to-season. He has an OK running game backing him up, A.J. Green to pass to, but no proven second WR. Week to week that position changes starters, but he makes due with whomever, the mark of a reliable quarterback. This team is in good hands with Dalton at the helm, and sure it will take time for him to grow into a sustainable place as the leader of the offense, but he’s got a good start in his career to build on.

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