All Hail the Quarterback!
At least that's the message the NFL has sent not only to its fans but to its defensive players. The league has made it increasingly more difficult for the men charged with getting to the signal-caller on passing downs.
And not only has the path to the quarterback become more difficult, arriving at your destination as a defensive player is no longer the end of the journey. No, now the league requires defensive players to plan out exactly how they hope to take down the quarterback—while going a million miles an hour and fighting through offensive linemen, tight ends and running backs.
Yes, the Age of the Overprotected Quarterback is here, and we might as well get used to it because it's here to stay.
Look, I understand why the league wants the quarterback put in bubble wrap. The NFL rules the television landscape. Every prime-time game is the highest-rated program in its time slot. NBC's Sunday Night Football is the No. 1 show in prime time. ESPN's Monday Night Football is the No. 1 show on cable.
The quarterback is a television star on the biggest show since the M*A*S*H finale (ask your parents...).
The problem, of course, is that the NFL has responded to this stardom by going to absurd levels to protect the faces of the league that are beamed into millions and millions of homes each weekend. It's so bad that, at this point, a defensive player could be forgiven for getting to the quarterback and asking him for his autograph rather than pummeling him.
After all, it's not every day you get to meet a real, live television star.
See, if those starting quarterbacks go down, especially for prime-time games, many casual fans just turn the channel to something else. The league doesn't need to worry about diehard fans changing the channel. We'll watch anything they put on our television screen.
Don't believe me? Check in with me next week after you and I have sat through every mind-numbing minute of the Carolina Panthers taking on the Philadelphia Eagles. That game could (and probably will) stink to high heaven, but diehards like you and I will watch every minute of it.
The NFL, it is often said, has become a passing league, and the trigger man on the offense is what makes it go. Fans want to see points on the board—preferably touchdowns instead of field goals, and preferably passing touchdowns instead of running ones.
This means teams need competent quarterback play, which they aren't going to get if the star quarterback goes down (most teams don't have a Colin Kaepernick lying around; though most of them do have a Jason Campbell).
So, in the interest of keeping these pretty-boy quarterbacks on their feet and playing football on television, the NFL has made anything other than wrapping your arms around the quarterback's waist and setting him on the ground a penalty.
Dive low at the quarterback? Tsk, tsk, tsk. Don't you know we lost Carson Palmer and Tom Brady that way? Silly defender, you can't do that.
Explode into the quarterback's shoulder pad, as Nick Perry did to Andrew Luck a few weeks ago? Well, that's a 15-yard penalty (not to mention a $15,000 fine) for hitting a defenseless player.
Think about that.
The defender was flagged—and lost a big chunk of change—because the offense didn't block him. I mean, if the defense isn't allowed to hit "defenseless" quarterbacks, why are they playing tackle football at all? Just make the NFL a seven-on-seven league and be done with it.
That hit does look violent, doesn't it? You know why? Because it's football.
Or it used to be, before the league had thousands of ex-players lining up to sue them.
Now, even the most incidental contact to a quarterback's helmet is a penalty. This is supposed to deter defenders from targeting the head area, but all it does is give the offense a cheap 15 yards, not to mention what is usually a big first down on what should have been a fourth down.
All in the name of keeping the quarterback/TV star healthy and happy.
So what's a defender to do? Can't go low, can't go high. And when you get the quarterback wrapped up, heaven forbid you throw him to the ground. Yes, defensive players are now flagged for "driving the quarterback into the ground."
Driving the quarterback into the ground used to be the whole idea.
I understand the need to keep the quarterback safe. And it's not all about TV. Of course teams want their starters on the field. Year after year, we've seen cases where teams' entire seasons are flushed down the drain because of the loss of a starting quarterback.
But the league needs a correction of some sort, some shift back toward the defense. Because right now, the rules in place go way too far in protecting the quarterback.