Many of us grew up in an era of football where a great defense and run game was imperative to success. Why has the game changed so much?
By the Numbers
Over the last few decades the game has changed in many fronts. In the 70s the NFL was a run heavy league where running backs like Earl Campbell, Franco Harris, O.J. Simpson and Walter Payton were the most valuable players of their era. These fierce runners were counterbalanced with hard-nosed linebackers like Jack Ham and Dick Butkus. This is where the NFL had hit a so called Tipping Point where once we entered the 80s QBs like Dan Marino, Joe Montana, John Elway and Jim Kelly got into the NFL and drastically changed the game on the field as well as off the field. These gun slingers would exploit run stopping defenses with quick release passes, opening them up for big plays down the field. This is when the percentages had flipped in 1983 and by 1990 a league dominated by the run game had been down to 13 teams who had a running percentage over 50%.
The Beginning of a New Age
Enter the new age of athletes who was led by Lawrence Taylor who created a position in which some of the NFL stars today mirror. L.T. was a special breed and an athletic freak who could beat you with speed and power and who was relentless and could come from anywhere in the box. This was another huge step in the evolution of the game. In order to slow down QBs, defenses needed athletes who could get to the QB and disrupt their game. Unfortunately offensive schemes begin to change and passing percent still began to rise like a stock on Wall Street. In 2003 the NFL was down to just 5 teams who ran over 50% of the time and in today’s game we are down to 2 teams who ran over 50% of the time respectively the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks in 2014.
OFF the Field Change
Today’s game is more like a business than ever. People are more interested in seeing 50 point games rather than hard-nosed 7-0 shut outs. Part of the reason this has changed is because the NFL has been trying to reach a broader demographic in order to boost ratings and income. They have been very successful. Each year they add more rules to make it tougher on defenders to be effective and always claim that it is for the safety of the players. I understand that but a LB running full steam of head looking to hit a receiver across the middle who is going up to make catch needs to be able to not react anymore but make a conscious decision within milliseconds whether to hit the WR and prevent the catch or not hit him and hope he drops it because in most cases a ref will throw a flag and call it hitting a defenseless receiver. As a former player I know how realistic this is and know football is a game of instincts and reactions. The result in this case would not only be a flag but a fine as well. The game has changed.
Evolution of Players
Today’s game players need to be more athletic than ever before. The game has evolved so much that it is common to see defensive tackles drop back into pass coverage’s. In order for defenses to stay relevant they need creative schemes and better athletes. In this year’s NFL Combine Jadeveon Clowney the most highly touted DE ran an incredible 4.53 40 yard dash while weighing in at 274 and standing at an intimidating 6’6”. He is a prime example of the evolution of the game. In order to stay in the NFL athleticism is becoming a necessity it is becoming very rare to have any downhill running backs who can’t block or catch and if they can only be one dimensional then a team will go out and find a back who can catch and block to balance their position resulting in de-valuing the position. The same is happening on the opposite side of the ball as well Linebackers can’t just be run stoppers any more they need the athleticism to cover TE’s and RB’s. The game is all about speed and athleticism these days. On a daily basis I train young athletes who are only concerned with how much they can bench and squat thinking they need to be able to lift the world to succeed on the field. This couldn’t be further from the truth while strength training is important having functional strength is a necessity and to be sure to train in a way that will correlate to the playing field. Athlete’s now turn to companies such as TESTFootballAcademy to not only become a greater overall athlete but to be sure their bodies are prepped to with stand long and grueling seasons. We continuously work on explosive training which in turn will allow them to hit harder and jump higher. We are constantly using the most cutting edge technology to hone in on every aspect of an athlete and train them to be as symmetrical as possible while decreasing their risk of injury. We match this with speed and positional training. Speed is crucial because the faster you are the more value you bring to a football team whether it be starting on defense or on special teams. I feel some of the most over looked training is the focus on positional work. After all, this relates to a game atmosphere as we put you in game like positions and train your muscle memory to take over. We train you on the drills you will be tested on by teams such as the 40 yard dash, 5-10-5, vertical jump, broad jump and three-cone but once those tests are over our focus becomes keeping you in the league for years to come. The sports performance industry has drastically changed as well and now more than ever, the importance of proper training is needed to truly excel and reach your potential on the field.
Though the game has changed to a pass happy offense we cannot ignore the success of old school football. No greater example has there been than this past year’s Super Bowl. The greatest offense of All-Time Denver Broncos led by perhaps the best QB to ever play the game in Peyton Manning were not match for a heavy run offense and a defense that was stacked with incredible athletes. High octane offenses may put people in the seats but a good run game and great defense still wins championships.
Author: Justin Brancaccio NSCA, CPT