McMullen: Searching for Serenity as a ‘Point of Emphasis’
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - When it comes to defense, the NFL is becoming the "Serenity Prayer" league.
If you're not familiar with American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr's work, it reads: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference."
In football terms Niebuhr's words have turned into a teaching tool every player has heard dozens of times and long before they every hit the professional level -- control what you can control.
The cliche has taken on added significance in the modern NFL as a point of emphasis had turned run-of-the-mill sacks of the quarterback into roughing-the-passer penalties, all in the name of safety in an attempt to keep the most high-profile players, who drive television ratings and therefore revenue, on the field.
The "point of emphasis," of course, is an overreaction to the borderline Anthony Barr hit outside the pocket last season, which put Aaron Rodgers on the shelf. Ironically it's Rodgers' teammate and friend, Clay Matthews, who has been hit the hardest, although the shift has affected many games.
It's also frustrated players and coaches while drastically changing the outcome of certain contests by ringing up so many 15-yard march-offs. Meanwhile, of all the QBs taking these devastating "illegal" hits none have been injured from them but one defensive end, William Hayes, tore his ACL while trying to roll off the QB and avoid putting all his weight on him.
"It's tough because that's a non-contact injury and his whole mindset was trying to make sure you don't get a foul sacking the quarterback because sacks are like gold to us," Eagles star defensive end Brandon Graham said when discussing the Hayes injury. "You don't want to be the reason that they take your sack away. It's tough, you (tear) your ACL because you're thinking about something that you shouldn't be thinking about."
Through three weeks officials have called roughing the passer 34 times, up over 50 percent from the 16 instances it was called through Week 3 in 2017.
"You gotta make sure you keep telling yourself it's football, you gotta stay aggressive," Graham said. "Stuff happens, I try not to worry about it."
The POE has become so unpopular that the league's competition committee is planning a conference call next week to discuss the issue.
A similar wrong turn was corrected in the preseason when the league added language to the helmet rule that was being called left and right in August but is now just a blip on the radar.
Why it's taking a week to get decision-makers on a phone call to try to fix a self-inflicted wound is anyone's guess but relief can't come soon enough for those on the field who don't know how to follow the rule and those on the sideline who don't know how to coach it.
"You talk about a difficult thing, you got guys that are fighting 300-pound offensive lineman trying to get to the quarterback," Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz explained on Tuesday. "Not sure if the quarterback is going to get rid of the ball, not sure if he's not. We have an increase of scrambling quarterbacks, strong scrambling quarterbacks, that we have seen them get out of our grasp before. You got to tackle them, but then you have to tackle them and make sure you don't land your weight on them."
The point of emphasis is untenable, illogical and regressive to the game.
"It's the only player that we have that for," Schwartz said of the QB and the rules designed to make things easier than ever for them. "That's not our job to make the rules. It's our job to try to figure out a way to play around them. I don't know that it can always be done. I think you can work to do it, you can try to spin out of your tackle, you can try to keep your weight from landing on a quarterback, but it's not always going to be possible."
In other words: control what you control.
In this instance, only the league can clean up its own mess and for now at least pass rushers are caught between the crossfire of placating critics who can never be satiated and keeping a $14 billion cash cow churning out the dollars.
"That's just the life of a defensive lineman," Schwartz lamented. "... Look, it's not our job to officiate. It's not our job to write the rule book. It's our job to play within those and to play to the standard that the officials put out there. It's not easy covering world-class, Olympic speed down the field. It's not easy taking on 650 pounds of guys on a double team. This whole game is built on things that are difficult. That just happens to be one of them."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen