So there I was, watching the Monday Night game between San Francisco and Green Bay (which was a lot more competitive than I thought it would be), when a play occurred near the end of the first quarter that was like countless others I've seen before. San Fran had kicked off, the Green Bay player fielded the ball near his own goal line, during the return (in this case, only after about twenty yards), I see flags flying. Immediately, reflexively, I say, "That's coming back."
You know it. I know it. It's either holding or an illegal block in the back.
In all the years I've spent watching football, how many times has this happened? Hundreds? Thousands? I mean, it happens at least once a game, right? And the result is always the same; the penalty is enforced at the spot of the foul.
Anyway, back to this particular play.
The return goes for 66 yards. The returner gets gang-tackled out of bounds. And there's a player injured on the field.
What's the point of it all?
As soon as those flags fly, we all know what's going to happen. Long return? Touchdown? Doesn't count. Pointless.
In recent years, the league has made changes that are supposed to improve player safety. Most of them involve protecting the QB, while others are meant to protect so-called "skill players." One of the more recent adjustments has officials blowing the play dead earlier for certain defensive neutral zone infractions. This has upset some fans, as it eliminates the exciting "free plays" that QBs like Aaron Rodgers use to great advantage. To keen observers like myself, the adjustment seems unnecessary, as the "unabated to the quarterback" rule already exists.
But that's the league. The game is QBs, and they must be protected, sometimes to ridiculous degrees.
Kickoffs can be exciting, but they, more than any other plays, involve some of the greatest potential for injury. You have 22 players on the field, most of whom are running at or near full speed, TOWARDS opposing players. That's a lot of high-speed collisions between very large humans. To the league's credit, they did move the kickoff line up five yards to create more touchbacks, so it stands to reason that they recognize the danger inherent in this particular type of play.
So, why not take it one step further? As soon as there is a hold or block in the back by the returning team, blow the play dead. In the case of the play I described above, several more seconds of pointless collisions, a feeble attempt at a tackle by the kicker, plus a violent gang-tackle out-of-bounds, would have been avoided (I couldn't say for sure whether the injury to the San Fran player could have been avoided.).
I think it's a hallmark of the league's hypocrisy that it goes way overboard to protect QBs, even at the expense of entertainment, but it comes up short when it comes to "lowly" special-teamers.
It's kind of like how the league always promotes itself as being proactive when it comes to player safety, yet it still has Thursday Night Football.
And speaking of...
Denver at Arizona
Truthfully, this isn't a game I'm particularly looking forward to. Neither team is really going anywhere this season. There might be a tendency to want to pick Arizona in this one; they've played hard, and lost some close games to far superior opponents. Don't be fooled. Effort counts for a lot, but there's not enough talent depth here, and their one win came in a game where they had a defensive TD, and two more TD drives start deep in San Francisco's territory after turnovers. Denver should win this game, but my main concern here is that the team hasn't consistently put forth its best effort this season. For those tempted to pick against Denver, it's worth noting that they could suffer a letdown after losing a tough game to LAR on Sunday. Also worth noting: neither of these teams' defences has been very good against the run this season, so with Denver having a strong running game, and with Arizona having David Johnson, expect to see lots of hand-offs and play-action passes.