No one has called me to ask how to solve the NFL’s ratings problem. That’s a shame, because I’ve figured it out. It's simple: More offense.
It’s working for baseball. Game 5 of the Astros-Dodgers out-rated the Steelers-Lions Sunday night game. As it should have. Would you rather watch long home runs and constant lead changes or Matthew Stafford crushing the hopes and dreams of Lions fans with another red zone failure?
Many would argue the NFL already does too much to help offense. But teams are scoring 43.7 points per game – the lowest total since 2009 (courtesy of STATs Inc.). Maybe it’s time to tinker, like they did in 2004 by changing how they called pass interference. That ushered in a golden era of offense and popularity.
Scoring per year
Although MLB won’t admit it, anecdotal evidence is mounting that the ball has changed. Home runs are up and so is interest in the Fall Classic. Now it’s football’s turn to subtly change the rules.
It’s funny how high-scoring games are labeled as “good,” while defensive struggles are “sloppy.” The Seahawks’ 41-38 win over the Texans was an instant classic. No one cares if the defenses played poorly. Meanwhile the Panthers beat the Bucs 17-3 on Sunday and the only reaction was “Hard Knocks lied to us about Tampa Bay.”
Football purists don’t want to hear this. They believe the League should go in the opposite direction and help even the playing field for defenses. But those old-school types aren’t running a multi-billion dollar business. Smashmouth football is boring. Football guys have nostalgia for an era that would be considered unwatchable in 2017.
If the NFL wants to adapt my strategy, it has to be sneaky …. like baseball. A few ideas:
• Less offensive holding: Who cares if an O-lineman grabs a bit of jersey? Especially if his hands are on in the inside of his opponent’s body. Nothing is worse than a long touchdown coming back on a holding flag. It happens way too often. Especially with teams having trouble evaluating college linemen who only know how to play in spread offenses.
Those football purists will say officials already let them get away with too much holding. I don’t care. Let them get away with even more. The League could emulate MLB and not tell anyone about the tweak. If it did come out, the NFL could argue it’s another safety measure to protect quarterbacks.
• End the emphasis on offensive pass interference: The Chargers complained about a pass interference call on Tyrell Williams that negated a Travis Benjamin touchdown in their loss to the Patriots on Sunday. That would never happen in Perloff’s NFL. Pick plays are just fine. And big receivers would not be flagged for tossing around smaller cornerbacks. Good luck covering Julio Jones and DeAndre Hopkins if I get my way.
• Forget the process: If it looks like a catch, it’s a catch. This is an easy fix. It might not make a huge difference, but every reception counts. I know the safety aspect – it will encourage defenders to blow up receivers to create fumbles. But DBs are trying to blow up pass-catchers anyway.
• Punts touchbacks go to the 25-yard-line: The League moved the kickoff touchback to the 25. Why not help offense and discourage punting? Hopefully this rule chance would end the worst play in football – the punt in opponents territory. When you’re on the 43 and kick it into the end zone, you’re sending a clear message to your fanbase that you don’t want to win football games.
• Narrow the uprights: Field goals don’t sell. The Titans’ 12-9 win over the Browns was the worst game of the season. Making field goals more difficult would also encourage teams to go for touchdowns and throw downfield.
• Quarterbacks can do whatever they want to the ball: The NFL may not want to do this because of all the time it wasted on Deflategate. But if deflating or inflating balls really works, why not let quarterbacks try their version of MLB’s altered baseball?
I’m well aware that this entire argument can be labeled soft. I apologize to the real football guys out there. But do we really miss the defensive-oriented game of the past? The game has evolved into a more entertaining product over the past decade and can go even further without completely disrupting the balance between offense and defense. Best of all … players aren’t flagged for celebrations, so we would get to see more of this ….