This is my Thursday column.
Your favorite NFL team probably isn’t good.
Ten weeks into the season, only 11 of the 32 teams in the NFL have winning records. That’s the fewest number of winning teams this late in a season since 1990, when the number was also 11. Then, the league had 28 teams, not 32.
When did the NFL become so mediocre? Where have all the good teams gone?
“That’s a great question; I have no idea,” cornerback Richard Sherman said on a conference call Wednesday afternoon. Sherman’s Seahawks went to the Super Bowl the past two seasons — they used to be great. Now, they’re just another sub-par team whose record is 4-5.
“Why don’t you guys have a winning record?” a reporter asked.
“Because we lost more games than we won.”
“Can you go a little bit deeper? Why do you think you guys have five losses?”
“Because we didn’t score more points than the other team.”
Thank you, Richard.
In all fairness, he isn’t paid to philosophize on the state of the NFL. Better to ask Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll.
Pete, how come only 34 percent of NFL teams have winning records right now?
“I think we’ve seen a good number of teams have undefeated records long into the season,” Carroll said Wednesday on a conference call. “I think that’s why the imbalance is there. We had a bunch of 6-0’s and 7-0’s putting a lot of losses on people … I don’t think it means much.”
In other words, it’s a fluke 21 teams don’t have winning records a week before Thanksgiving.
With all due respect to Carroll, I disagree with his theory. I have my own:
Teams don’t practice enough anymore.
In 2011, the players union and the owners signed a collective bargaining agreement which reduced the amount of hours teams are allowed to practice, and the amount of padded practices teams are allowed to have each week.
Now, teams conduct more “walk-through” practices, where players don’t run or hit each other — they just go through the motions slowly. Somehow, this is supposed to prepare players for games.
Since the new CBA came into effect, the average rushing yards gained in the league has dropped every season. In 2011, offenses averaged 117.1 rushing yards per game. In 2012, they averaged 115.9 rushing yards per game. In 2013, they averaged 112.0 rushing yards per game. In 2014, they averaged 111.3 rushing yards per game. And this season, they’re averaging only 109.0 rushing yards per game — the lowest average since 1999.
How can teams have sharp, crisp running games if they don’t practice aggressive run blocking during the week?
Since the new CBA came into effect, the average punt return has gotten shorter every season. In 2011, teams averaged 9.9 yards per punt return. This season, teams are averaging only 8.8 yards per punt return.
How can teams have effective return games if they don’t practice tackling?
Since the new CBA came into effect, there has been an average of 1,198 sacks per season. The five seasons before the CBA came into effect, there was an average of only 1,106 sacks per season. Sacks are on the rise.
How can offensive linemen be ready to take on highly-paid pass rushers without practicing live pass protection during the week?
Players these days have more athletic talent than ever, but their football skills are worse than ever due to insufficient preparation. As a result, the quality of the NFL’s product is inferior to what it was before the new CBA.
But, an inferior product seems to be exactly what the suits on Park Avenue want. The NFL likes parity. Parity keeps more teams alive for the playoffs, and keeps more fans interested for an entire season.
Commissioner Roger Goodell doesn’t care about the mediocrity of the league, as long as viewers keep tuning in at record numbers and the league cash register keeps ringing to the tune of more than $10 billion a year.
Every year, the NFL charges fans more and more for this inferior game. They charge outrageous prices for season tickets, seat licenses, concessions, parking and apparel. Fans think they’re paying top dollar to watch a cutting-edge expression of their favorite sport.
Really, they’re just watching second-rate entertainment.
Welcome to the new NFL.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.