More Passing Brings More Danger
The NFL has dramatically changed the rules of football over the past decade in an attempt to improve the safety of the players. The NFL has also changed the rules to make it easier for teams to pass. Unfortunately the rules to protect the players’ safety do not outweigh the damage done by the rule changes that affect the way offenses strategize. Through seven weeks of the 2013 season there have been 124 season ending injuries; through seven weeks in 2012 there were 84. If the NFL does not go back to making passing more difficult it will have a major injury problem to contend with.
The NFL is an entertainment empire. Just like any other entertainment company the NFL builds a product to fit their audience’s preferences. Passing plays are more exciting than run plays. There is no statistical evidence to prove it but listen to how much louder a crowd reacts after a 6 yard gain on a pass play than a 6 yard run play. The NFL realized this and adjusted its product to increase its entertainment value. It worked; the NFL continues to grow in popularity.
The NFL adjusted by making the officials call pass interference, defensive holding, and personal fouls more frequently. This made it tougher for defenders to break up passes, hit the quarterback and to hit receivers after the catch without drawing a flag.
These rule changes made passing easier and created an offensive paradigm shift. In 2013 rushing attempts per game are at an all time low (53). Per game numbers for receptions (44.6) passing yards (491.8) attempts (72.4) completion percentage (61.7) and touchdown passes (3.2) are all at all time highs. The increase in passing plays is great for the audience but horrible for player safety.
Passing plays are more dangerous because they are more unpredictable. During a run play players have time to anticipate contact and position their bodies to absorb the contact. Additionally, most players cannot get up to full speed because most of the contact occurs in a confined area between the tackle box and five yards on either side of the line of scrimmage. During a passing play players are running full speed all over the field focused on the quarterback or the ball instead of their surroundings.
Because of this generally when a receiver gets hit on a passing play he is leaving himself vulnerable to a world class athlete running full speed with the intention of transferring all of his force and momentum into the receiver. It doesn’t matter if players cannot target the head anymore, there are plenty of places on the body where a blind side full force hit can do damage.
The additional targeting penalties could actually result in more injuries. Decades ago when there were not as many rules, receivers did not go over the middle as much because they knew the consequences attached to doing so. The new rules have created a false sense of security for receivers. Sure, they may not get pushed around as much while running routes or have to worry about a head hunter but a safety running full speed and torpedoing at a receiver’s knees can do a lot of damage. While the concussion number might drop, the injuries and length of recovery time for those injuries will increase.
Passing plays are also more dangerous for lineman. On a run play offensive linemen have their assignments and can for the most part anticipate where contact will come from before he play. On passing plays they have to read and react. Also on passing plays offensive lineman are moving backwards which leaves them oblivious to any players who may be rolling up under them and taking out their knees. For defensive lineman the problem is similar. Run plays they can prepare for contact, on passing plays they may have to deal with smaller backs taking out their knees.
No other sport in the world allows all players to get hit from almost all angles. In hockey players cannot get hit from behind and can only get hit when they have the puck, rugby is the same. Even boxers and UFC fighters have a chance to react to a strike before it takes place. The sports’ legal contact structure of other violent sports makes football seem barbaric.
Football has always been and will continue to be dangerous. Even though it seems the NFL is doing all it can to protect the players the best thing they can do is go in the time machine a couple of decades backwards to decrease the amount of unpredicted hits that players endure.