The most famous example of football being too cute came with just seconds left in Super Bowl XLIX when the Seahawks didn’t run the ball. This was certainly not the beginning of the NFL’s regression to gadget plays, but it has certainly brought the spotlight to these questionable goal line calls.
Just last night, I was watching the Seahawks play the Falcons, and I almost had a fit: Three separate drives almost stalled (one actually did) inside the five yard line. The Falcons had two such drives, converting one while having to kick a field goal on the other. On their first drive inside the five, the Falcons, on first and goal from the five, ran the same exact play that the Seahawks ran to lose the Super Bowl, and it almost had the same result. The ball was tipped up in the air, and four Seahawks missed easy interceptions. While the Falcons did convert two plays later, an interception could’ve changed the game. In the fourth quarter, already up by eight, the Falcons had a chance to put the game away with another touchdown. On second down from the three yard line, Falcons’ QB Matt Ryan threw a fade into the end zone that was easily knocked down. One play later RB Tevin Coleman ran the ball inches from the goal line (it was actually called a touchdown on the field), but the Falcons had to settle for a field goal, letting the Seahawks back in the game. Had they rushed the ball on second down, they surely would have scored on one of the next two plays. The Seahawks also had their chance to stall inside the five: It took them four plays to get the ball into the end zone from one yard out after running their first power play on third down. That run set up QB Russell Wilson’s bootleg for a touchdown on fourth down.
These goal line situations showed explicitly what teams are doing wrong every game. Teams need to stop trying to be too cute on the goal line and instead line up in a power formation with extra linemen and pound the ball into the end zone. The Patriots did this last year with RB LeGarrette Blount: He scored 18 touchdowns and the Patriots were one of the best teams in converting in the Red Zone, especially if they got the ball inside the ten. Despite how obvious this strategy is, teams continue to fail to do this, and I think the reason for this is that many young players are unable to run a power scheme because they never learned it in college.
When you watch college football today, every single play for most teams is run from the shotgun. Only a few quarterbacks in the country even have the ability to take snaps from under center. This was obvious in Miami’s thrashing of Notre Dame two weeks ago. Notre Dame’s offensive line was dominating the line of scrimmage, but the Miami linebackers were too fast and would run around the outside of the line, chasing RB Josh Adams down from behind before he could get up field. Because the plays were run out of the shotgun, it took too long for Adams to get moving forward. If Notre Dame could have started running true power plays, the Miami players would have been overwhelmed, but QB Brandon Wimbush is not able to take snaps from under center, so the Irish could not have tried to change their strategy. Colleges need to emphasize power football for their own sake but also for the NFL. The open, shotgun style in college isn’t teaching young players how to run a power formation. Without young players knowing how to run these plays, the NFL has gotten too cute on the goal line.
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