Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Run hard and stop the run

How to stump the chumps and loose in January

I hear the guys on the NFL Network frequently describing how to make strides if you are a bad football team. The formula that Solomon Wilcots, Jamie Dukes, Sterling Sharp, and Brian Baldinger usually advance is simply stated: Run hard and stop the run.

I will admit that this style of play, when done well, will get you about 10 victories. I should know. I am a Ram fan. I started in the 1970s when we had Pat Hayden and Ground Chuck. I watched Coach John Robinson revive our fortunes in 1983 with rookie of the year Eric Dickerson and new fangled 3-4 defense. We won around 10 games a year most of the time. We lost in December and January. We did not win a Super Bowl in those days,


Because run hard and stop the run is a good formula for stumping the chumps of this league. It does not work against the elite teams of the NFL in the playoffs. Run hard and stop the run works because in any given year, 20 teams cannot play a decent quality pro game. They have glaring and visible weaknesses in their football teams. Often, these defects are concentrated in the coaching staff.

Need I mention the San Diego Chargers of this decade? Marty Schottenheimer was one of the most committed members of the run hard and stop the run club. He lost all the time in January, no matter how tough his football team was. Yet Marty has one of the best winning percentages of all time. He fucked up a lot of chumps with his elementary style. He beat all the teams he should have beaten, but he couldn't beat the elite teams. This was true in Kansas City and Cleveland also.

Need I mention the Titans of last season? They ran hard and stopped the run. The secured home field advantage throughout the AFC tournament. They lost in the 1st round to the Ravens.

By now, you should understand that run hard and stop the run is not a formula which wins Super Bowls anymore. I think the last time this formula worked was in 1975 when the Steelers beat the Vikings. Since then it has taken more to get the job done. The days of classic Packers and Dolphins are gone.

The real formula for victory in the Super Bowl is pass very efficiently, and choke the enemy passing attack.

Whether anybody cares to admit it or not, the majority of the yards and the points for each and every team every year are gained through the air, not on the ground. There are abnormal conditions like the 1983 Rams where Eric Dickerson ran for more yards than Jeff Kemp passed for. Those abnormal conditions are few and far between. It takes a legendary hall of fame running back and a catastrophic QB to make that happen. No, the rule holds true. Just about every team winds up gaining most of its yards and points through the air.

If the majority of the yards and points are gained through the air, stopping the pass has to be the first priority. This is the big budget item. This is where cuts should be made first. Cuts made here will not only balance the budget, but yeild you a surplus. That is what you want.

Years ago, I read somewhere that a pair of shutdown corners are the foundation of a dominant defense. I scoffed at that statement. Having just come through the Steel-Curtain era and the 1985 Bears, I categorically rejected that statement. A dominant defense is build around a leathal defenseive line, or so I thought. God has been showing me the error of my thinking ever since that moment in time. Now I am firmly convinced that a shutdown defense is predicated on a pair of dominant corners. To the extent that my 1980s Rams were good, it was because of LeRoy Irvine, Pat Thomas, and Mel Gray, a set of ProBowl corners.

In today's pass-happy league, you need three shutdown corners, one elephant linebacker, and one highly mobile defensive end to shutoff a passing attack. If you have this you are good to go. Give me Dion Sanders, Rod Woodson, Lester Hayes, Kevin Greene, and Charles Hailey and we will crush everybody. Nobody passes against us.

Look at the current NFL champs, the Steelers. They had the #1 defense in the NFL in 2008. They could certainly choke the passing game. They could also pass extremely efficiently with Big Ben. The Cardinals found this out the hard way. Take the Giants. The could certainly defend the pass. Tony Romo, Brett Farve and Tom Brady all found this out the hard way. They could also pass extremely efficiently with Eli Manning. Take the Colts. They had great pass defense in 2006. They couldn't stop the run worth shit in the regular season, but the secondary was strong. They could also pass extremely effectively with Peyton Manning.

I can go on folks. The list continues.

The fact of the matter is that you cannot win the football game in the final 1:34 of regulation if you have a ground-bound running attack with a guy like Eric Dickerson. You have to be able to put the football in the air. You don't have time to run hard. You must pass. If you can only run hard, you will loose in the final two minutes of closely contested football games with elite teams. Take it from a guy with many bitter memories of the late 1970s and the 1980s.

There is another important fact: Your run defense is not going to do you much good in the final 1:34 when the other team abandons the run and goes to the air. You better be able to strangle the passing attack, or you are going to loose.

This is what happens when you run hard and stop the run: You win 10 games in the regular season, play an elite team in round 1, and you loose. The end of story. Most of the time, the autopsy shows that you couldn't overcome your enemy's meagar 2 point edge in the final two minutes, or Tom Brady found it easy enough to drive his guys into field goal range in the final 2:00 of regulation.

Of course, if you have a defense like the Broncos, a running back like Terrell Davis and a Quarterback like John Elway, you have the best of everything and you can win back to back Super Bowls.