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Rules changes changing the game


Never has "never say never" rung truer than it will with this proclamation: If I was a head coach or personnel director in the NFL, I would no longer build my team to be more physical than the opposition. I would build my team to be more athletic.

Those are my words and they are the words of someone who has genuinely believed for all of his life that football is a game won by the more physical team, and that if you run the ball and stop the run you will win a lot more games than you lose. Those have always been my beliefs, but they are my beliefs no longer.

Last week, the NFL took major steps toward softening the game, and if I was a head coach or personnel director in this league, I would splash cold water on my face and understand what this softening really means: Power will give way to grace.

This isn't a criticism of the rules changes. This is merely to express the opinion that they will create significant changes in the way the game is played. Yes, the NFL has been headed in this direction for years. It's just that we've finally reached the tipping point.

Look at the players. They wear no knee pads, thigh pads or hip pads. Shoulder pads? They might as well just take the old knee pads and tape them to their shoulders.

Just for kicks, I looked up an old picture of Eric Dickerson. He was wearing every pad known to man. Remember those old neck collars? They were all the rage when I was young. Who needs them now? It's a hands and feet game today.

A lot of coaches are going to struggle with the direction of the game. I wonder what Jack Del Rio thinks. He's always been a coach who emphasizes the physical, but I don't think that's gonna win for you going forward. The days of beating the ball out of a receiver's possession are over. It's never been more about playing the ball. If you play the receiver instead of the ball, you're gonna get a lot of penalties and a lot of fines.

Hines Ward has immediately become a dinosaur. He was born too late. He would've been an even greater, more feared and more respected receiver in the 1970's. In today's game he is too physical. Imagine that. A receiver who hits too hard.

Hard-hitting safeties? Forget about 'em. I don't care if you lead with your belly button. The bottom line is if you hit a receiver in such a fashion that the collision appears to be excessively fierce, it's gonna be flagged and you're gonna be fined.

Why fight it? That's what I would ask myself if I was a coach, and I wouldn't fight it. I'd surrender to the league's demands of a softer game and start thinking of ways to take advantage of the changes.

The coaches who don't surrender are, in my opinion, going to struggle with these changes. One team in particular, the Super Bowl-champion Steelers, may struggle the most. The Steelers may see a way of life go down the drain. The way they have played football for all their history has become taboo.

Run the ball and stop the run will be replaced, in my opinion, by defend the pass and rush the quarterback. Notice that I didn't say sack the quarterback. The league wants you to hurry him, not hurt him.

In the new, softer NFL I envision, I see running backs being used as wide receivers. That's where I think head coaches and personnel directors will have to become visionaries. In this new NFL, 50 passes a game will not be out of the norm. What was a run will become a pass.

Coaches are going to take advantage of these rules changes that are, no doubt, going to back off defensive backs in defending against the pass and shackle receivers attempting to block for the run. In that style of game, I think it's only logical to expect coaches to attempt fewer runs and more passes.

Don't fight it. Get yourself a quarterback who can distribute the ball, linemen who can pass-block, running backs who can catch and run after the catch, defensive tackles who can rush the passer, linebackers who can play in space and defensive backs who would be basketball players. Oh, and wide receivers? It's OK if blocking isn't their forte.

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