Monday, September 23, 2013

Backfield Marsupials

Last time, I wrote about the quarterback, the most visible football player on the team. The next one to discuss is the running back. Besides the quarterback, this is usually the only other position that lines up in the backfield prior to the ball being snapped (the play starting). All the other players are required to line up on the “line of scrimmage” (imaginary line that runs the entire width of the field at which both teams line up, facing each other before ball is snapped).

The purpose of the running back is to run with the football, preferably to the end zone to score a touchdown. As simplistic as that might sound, it is a lot more complicated than that. The game of football has become a science of strategy and thinking outside of the box and this position isn’t just about fast runners. In fact, speed might not even be the top factor in getting a running back. As I compared quarterbacks to family matrons last week, running backs need to have a bit of Tasmanian devil in them. They should embody the chaos, unpredictability and fearlessness of our childhood cartoon. Running backs are ideally a bit shorter than the average NFL player, the reason being: a lower center of gravity (makes them harder to bring down). They have monstrous thighs in order to help them break tackles (gain yards even if they get hit by a defender). Speed is still a very important skill for the running back, although most of the speed comes in quick, short bursts. Vision, meaning that the running back needs to see and predict how the players will move while the play unfolds. That way, the running back can predict if a hole opens up for him to get a running lane for a few more yards. They have to have strong hands. Defenses are trained to not only tackle a player but to viciously swipe down on the ball as they tackle to force a fumble. Running backs are trained to hold the ball in the most extreme of situations. Another thing that they are expected to have is durability. The average amount of yards that the top 49 NFL running backs get every time they run the ball is 4.6 yards ( In other words, they run the ball 13.8 feet on average. In those 13.8 feet, chaos erupts. Defenses want to tear the ball from their hands, tear their heads from their necks, and tear their will to live from their hearts. Instead of avoiding this type of attention, the running back looks for it and helps create it.

When it comes to Tasmanian devil mentality, the running back that comes to mind is Marshawn Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks (for those of you who are not Seahawk fans, I apologize for the amount of times they will be used in my blogs. They are my home team and the personnel that I know the best). Nicknamed “Beast Mode”, it probably comes as no surprise that he is a running back that welcomes violence. One of his best known runs came in Jan 2011 in a playoff win over New Orleans. As he ran, he stiff armed opponents and shoved another one into the ground before he scored. In another game, he was flagged for a personal foul for deliberately lowering his head and plowing down a 49er defender. Even as my family and I watched a recent Seahawk game, we just had to shrug our shoulders as he chose to sacrifice some extra yards on a carry in order to turn right and hit a Jacksonville defender.

So up to this point, we have talked about the matrons of the family and Tasmanian devils. Next week, we will meet more positions of the offense and see what transpires from there! Happy football watching!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

If Momma Ain't Happy...

In the next few segments, I will be talking about offense, defense and certain positions on the field. There are 22 players on the field at all times; 11 for each team. During a regular “drive” of the game there are two teams; an offense and a defense. The other part of the game involves a group of players called special teams, which are exciting but don’t stay on the field long (we will eventually touch on them as well). The offense is the group of 11 players that has possession of the ball. Their aim is to take the ball down the field and make points. The defense’s aim is to keep the opposing team’s offense from scoring; the ideal scenario for the defense would be to take the ball away by means of a turnover (fumble or interception) and either score for their team or get the ball back to their offense. Now that technical jargon is out of the way, let’s get to the fun stuff.

The offense and the defense makes up the majority action of the chess match that we talked about last week. Within each of these teams are different positions with different responsibilities. Each player will respond to those responsibilities differently according to their physical abilities, personalities and how they’re coached. On offense, arguably the most important position is the quarterback. The quarterback is the one on the offense who calls the plays (usually dictated by the coaching staff), takes the football once it’s snapped and either hands it off to a runningback or passes it to a receiver. He can also run with the ball, most quarterbacks have some kind of scrambling ability (aside from a few teams, most try to keep the QB from doing a lot of running). The NFL has been referenced as a “Quarterback driven league”. What does this mean? The team is only as good or as bad as the quarterback. You can refer to the QB as the matron of the family, and “if Momma ain't happy, ain’t nobody happy”. Just like there are matrons who run their families with wisdom and love (June Cleaver or Clair Huxtable), so there are QB’s who run their offense with intelligence and skill. We have had some excellent examples already this season.

In the very first game of the regular NFL season on Sept 5th, Peyton Manning, the QB for the Denver Broncos masterfully guided his team to defeat the reigning Superbowl champion Baltimore Ravens. He threw for seven touchdowns and had the highest rating for a QB he has ever had (we will touch on QB ratings later). The human element comes to play, when you realize he is the oldest QB in the league, at 37 years old. In football-years , which are similar to dog years, Mr. Manning would be about 259 years old. If that wasn’t enough, he had three or four neck surgeries ending in 2011 that made him sit out an entire season. The heroic effort it took for him to come back from such critical surgeries cannot be fully appreciated from a distance, it is a next to impossible accomplishment. As I sat with my husband watching the warm ups to that first game, I remarked to him how awkward Peyton Manning looked. Things like, “His helmet looks too small.” “Look how awkward he runs” “He’s old…” My husband just smiled and said nothing. After the game, he remarked almost under his breath “Yeah, he was really awkward wasn’t he?”

Now just like there are the much beloved matrons like Clair Huxtable or Marion Cunningham, there is the other extreme. You might have Marie Barone or Peggy Bundy to deal with. Take, for instance, this past Thursday Night Football game. Although the New England Patriots QB Tom Brady is one of the best in the league and ended up winning the game, he had a tough game in which he threw tantrums as well as footballs. On the human side of things, the Patriots have had more than their share of off season trouble. Everything from contract troubles, injuries and a highly publicized arrest in which the former teammate is on trial for murder. Because of all of that, the offence has been drastically reduced, which has resulted in a lack of veteran offensive players for Tom Brady to throw to. The stress of playing with very young players, whose on-the-job training included a nationally televised football game, released his “inner yenta” where his anger made headlines. After the game, he addressed his behavior remarking that he needs to improve his body language, and might I offer this suggestion: his potty-mouth.

There are only 32 starting NFL quarterbacks in the world. Their skills and talents make them very unique and the pressure that is placed on them every week in the football season makes them very special. It is hard to come up with a time when the quarterback has not been the central person on the offense. And although I will never be in the club, I am sure that most of them would rather be compared to Clint Eastwood than Marie Barone.

Happy football watching!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Why Do I Love This?

As I watched the first football game of the 2013 NFL season, I realized that I might be one of three friends who would be switching their schedule around in order to be able to watch the game in its entirety. This blog is not intended for my dear friends who are my pigskin-soulmates, I am writing to all my other wonderful friends who are mystified as to why I love the game so much. I will attempt to explain the game in a way that will help you find the veiwing enjoyment that I have. I am unsure of main reason why I love the game of football. I have to say that I love the allegiance that comes from rooting for a team. I enjoy the escape it gives me from the ovewhelming pressures of reality. Yet it is the ultimate reality TV show with no worries of it being scripted.

I grew up watching the game with my father, and during the tumultuous teen years (mine not my father's), it became the one topic of conversation that didn't result in a yelling match. In my younger years, my mother taught me the basic premise of game and after a while my father taught me to watch the little nuances of the match-ups. I soon found myself engrossed in the violent chess match that describes the strategy of football. Each player on the field is like a chess piece pondered over by the coaching staff; they are brought in to shore up weaknesses on the team, moved around to answer another team's strength, the opposing chess pieces are studied in the hopes of finding a way to stop them. The difference of these chess pieces compared to the board pieces are they aren't quiet, they sweat, can weigh over 300 lbs, make Gatorade commercials and can collect $120 million over 4 years (see QB Joe Flacco of Ravens).

The goal of the game is to win by putting up more points that the opponent. There are more than a few ways to score points; there is a touchdown that equals 6 points, extra point after a touchdown which equals one point, 2 point conversion after a touchdown, a field goal which equals 3 points and a safety which equals 2 points. Field goals and safeties are ways of scoring points without being contingent on a touchdown. The teams have to use these methods or a combination of them in order to attempt to score the most points to win.

I realize that most have the basic premsie and scoring understood, but it is the less understood rules and less known strategies that make football fascinating. In the next days and weeks, my hope is that I can help you gain a new appreciation and enjoyment for the game that has become the newest national pastime.