Defenses simply cannot catch a break in football. In this sports era, no one cares about defensive games. Fans want to see shootouts. They want to see teams light up the scoreboard. The NFL has given in to this idea, and it has gotten to the point where it is almost impossible to play defense.
That is what makes the Pittsburgh Steelers' Super Bowl win even more amazing. Their defense finished first in the regular season in points, total yards and passing yards allowed, and they finished second in rushing yards allowed. This year's Steelers defense was one of the greatest defenses of all time.
The Steelers' feat was so impressive because it seems in football there is a penalty on every pass play. There are so many penalties the defense could commit. Holding, illegal hands to the face, pass interference and illegal contact are just a few. This led Steelers safety Troy Polamalu to say football was becoming "a pansy game," referring to the fines players get for roughing the passer and unnecessary roughness.
The Detroit Lions lost perhaps their best chance for a win this year when cornerback Leigh Bodden was flagged on a very questionable pass interference call in overtime that set up Minnesota Viking's kicker Ryan Longwell's game-winning field goal. The Lions lost the game and went on to finish with an historic 0-16 record.
So what can be done to fix this problem? How can the NFL get back to the smash-mouth style of football that was played by legends like Dick Butkus, Ronnie Lott and Lawrence Taylor?
First, Commissioner Roger Goodell needs to stop fining players for late hits. If a defensive player clearly has malicious intent with a hit, it would be acceptable to fine him. But, if it is just a player who can't stop his momentum and hits the quarterback shortly after he releases the ball or hits a receiver or running back shortly after he steps out of bounds, a fine is not necessary.
Goodell has done a great job punishing players for their behavior off the field, but he needs to give the defensive players more slack on the field.
Next, the rules need to be changed to allow a little bit more bumping from defensive backs. When players are running next to each other, incidental contact is going to happen. But, it seems the defensive player is the one who gets flagged for this contact more often than not. Officials need to allow the bumping to happen and keep the flags in their pockets.
If contact significantly alters the play, then a penalty is necessary. Otherwise, let the players decide the outcome of the game. Too often, officials prolong a game-winning drive with a pass interference call.
These problems need to be fixed, or the NFL will follow a path similar to the NBA. Very few teams in the NBA focus on defense, and as a result, scores more than 120 are somewhat common. Games that turn into blowouts are not very fun for fans, even if their team is on the winning end of it. Because of this, the NBA has been declining in popularity over the last decade. It would be a shame to watch the NFL follow that path.