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The Top 10: Week 15

Matt Waldman's weekly film notebook includes young QB love, RB updates, Dede Westbrook bringing the goods, big plays from heavy sets, Fresh Fish, and a gut-check of a Wow Play. 

kevin clark's football problem

The Ringer's Kevin Clark wrote a Monday morning piece lamenting the loss of Carson Wentz as bad for the NFL. I agree with the basic premise that losing an exciting and productive quarterback for the year is bad for the entertainment value of the 2017 NFL season.

However, I disagree with Clark's idea that aggressive, downfield passing is a worthwhile method of judging the entertainment value of the league.  While the term "egregious check-down offender" is clever, the argument that downfield throwing is more fun appeals to the lowest common denominator of fandom and he's better than that.   

Vertical passing is fun, there's no denying it. However, Clark's argument is based on the novel versus the sit-com mentality. There's nothing wrong with either, but Clark wants you to believe there is.

Considering that he's written good long-form pieces, I'm surprised that he doesn't recognize the parallels of the work that got him a job at The Ringer and offenses that don't pander to his simplistic idea of good football. If he did, he might appreciate the slow burn of a team like the Jaguars, whose commitment to power football and a terrific pass defense renders even the most physical teams in the league completely useless by game's end. 

His leading argument sounds like something a pop music writer would pose — one dumbfounded by trios of Roman numerals like IV-V-I and II-V-I and heaps tons of praise on the creative use of sampling of Art Blakey, Donald Byrd, and Ron Carter in Hip-Hop, but tells his readers at every turn that jazz is dead:

NFL quarterbacks throw short of the first-down sticks nearly two-thirds of the time on long third downs. The story of the modern NFL offense is that despite the athletes getting better and this generation of quarterbacks throwign more passes from high school on than ever before, NFL teams somehow took these pieces and gaves us the most conservative passing era of all time. It is, from an aesthetic standpoint, one of the most frustrating developments in the sport. Players that look likely to make the playoffs, including Drew Brees, Joe Flacco, Alex Smith, Case Keenum, and Blake Bortles, are all egregious check-down offenders. 

Clark knows (or at least he should) that teams throw short of the sticks because the athletes are better — they make defenders miss and break tackles. Go for the higher-percentage throw and let the receiver do the work. 

He must at least be aware of the idea that there's a far more worrisome shortage of talent at offensive line. If teams can't buy time for its quarterback, the passes get shorter and schemes cater to it. The Eagles also have one of the best and most athletic lines in the NFL. Nick Foles won't be as productive, but I wouldn't be surprised if Philadelphia sees a significant decrease in vertical attempts.

I'm more concerned with the underlying issue with Clark's points that are symptomatic of a larger issue I've noticed in recent years: No matter how the NFL and the media try to frame it, football is a 60-minute drama, not a series of 45-second video clips or Red Zone Channel segments.

What frustrates me most about Clark and other football writers like him is their desire to become more sophisticated with data of the game but not the intricacies of football technique and strategy. Vertical passing is fun; well-crafted drives that physically and mentally wear down opponents are not. Fast running backs who can break a run 80 yards are fun; smart running backs who can routinely earn 4-6 yards against defenses that put game-breakers on their ass 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage are not. 

I'd like to think that writers — especially a long-form writer of Clark's acumen —  would devote time to learning the subtleties of the game the way they did to initially gain a competency with words and storytelling. Games will always have a childlike nature, but there's a point where those analyzing the game and its players should approach it like grownups with jobs and learn its intricacies.

Then again, I know it's unfair of me to make this request in a sports media business that has taken a lot of good reporters and asked them to become glorified game show hosts. Fortunately, successful coaches could care less what the media thinks about the passing game.

1. the Goff-Wentz duel (was great while it lasted) and trey burton


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