Mike Preston’s observations on NFL’s problem with parity, Ravens run defense, hip-drop tackles and more | COMMENTARY

The only time the NFL makes changes is when a star player suggests them or gets hurt, so maybe officials will listen to former quarterback Tom Brady after he recently criticized the league for its mediocrity.

The NFL has been “average” for several years, and that makes commissioner Roger Goodell happy because every team appears to have a chance at winning the championship, which keeps fans interested.

But it’s boring.

The NFL can have all of this late drama with games ending in field goals, but I prefer games that are fundamentally sound and feature great quarterback matchups such as Brady versus Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers against Drew Brees.

Those duels don’t exist now. Besides Kansas City’s future Hall of Fame quarterback Patrick Mahomes, name five great ones playing today. There are some good young quarterbacks such as Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow and Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts. You can throw in the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson, Buffalo’s Josh Allen and the Los Angeles Chargers’ Justin Herbert if you want, but all have been inconsistent.

“I think the coaching isn’t as good as it was,” Brady said during a recent interview with ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith. “I don’t think the development of young players is as good as it was. I don’t think the schemes are as good as they were. The rules have allowed a lot of bad habits to get into the actual performance of the game. … So I just think the product in my opinion is less than what it’s been.”

It’s all true, and it’s coming from a player who retired only a year ago and won seven Super Bowl titles during a 23-year career.

There are no super teams, just a bunch of teams.

I like perfection, like the 1972 Miami Dolphins going 17-0. I preferred the Steelers’ dominance in the 1970′s and the Cowboys’ championship runs in the 1990′s because they set a standard for every team to chase. I like Patriots coach Bill Belichick walking around with eight championship rings on his fingers.

In today’s NFL, the featured games include Washington, Buffalo and the even more dreaded Chicago Bears. The television networks wanted to feature Rodgers, but once he went down with a likely season-ending Achilles tear in Week 1, we are forced to see the New York Jets way, way, way too much.

The emphasis is now on scoring, which is why the NFL has incorporated more college concepts. But that also means more training time for quarterbacks who have to learn how to read an entire field instead of one half to one third.

Offensive linemen have to relearn how to run block out of a three-point stance instead of the two-point style they used more frequently in college.

Because of limitations on physical contact, NFL practices have become more like walk-throughs, which contributes to poor tackling. The imposing defensive style once used by the 2000 Ravens has basically been outlawed because of the interpretations and regulations on what constitutes a defenseless player.

Coaches have changed too, relying more on analytics than gut instinct, which is why the Chargers’ Brandon Staley might be fired Monday morning if the Ravens blow them out Sunday night in Los Angeles.

The NFL has gotten lost in its own parity.

Scoring is down for the fourth straight year, dropping from an average combined total of 45.9 points per game in 2021 to 43.3 this season, the lowest mark since 2009. It’s not just about scoring, but being competitive, fundamentally sound and showcasing featured attractions.

The competition is there, but the other two are lacking.

Ravens run defense a concern

Ravens coach John Harbaugh tried to downplay the team’s run defense earlier this week, but it has to be a concern.

In three of the past four games the Ravens have allowed more than 100 rushing yards to Arizona (32 attempts for 129 yards), Cleveland (36 for 178) and Cincinnati (23 for 136).

“I’m not too worried about our run defense. We take a lot of pride in that,” Harbaugh said.

If so much pride, then why so many yards? Because of the winter weather, it’s imperative that a playoff team on the East Coast be able to run and stop the run in the postseason.

The Ravens are ranked No. 13 in the NFL in run defense, allowing an average 103.7 yards per game. More pride is definitely needed.

Blow the whistle

The “tush push” is the play made popular by the Eagles and Hurts. It’s a QB sneak in which players push Hurts from behind to get him the needed yard or two for a first down or a touchdown, but there needs to be some time limit with respect to forward progress.

There have been several times when plays should have been stopped, and then an offensive lineman or two comes in and pushes the pile downfield for several more yards.

Unfortunately, a player is going to get hurt in this mass of humanity and then the NFL will finally blow the whistle to stop the play or ban players from assisting the runner.

There is no reward for a defensive player to step up and make a play in the backfield if the whistle isn’t blown within seconds. The only incentive for the defense is to hope for an interception or a fumble, especially inside the 3-yard line.

Hamilton heating up

After middle linebacker Roquan Smith, second-year safety Kyle Hamilton might be the second-best player on the Ravens defense.

Hamilton is extremely versatile and can cover the slot, tight end a No. 3 receiver or line up near the line of scrimmage as another linebacker. Now, he has become more of a pass rusher and opposing teams are starting to focus on him.

“Yes, it’s fun. It’s a switch-up,” said Hamilton, who is third on the team in tackles with 56, including three sacks. “I didn’t really blitz in college or high school. I got my first sack ever last year against Cleveland — in my life. It’s fun, though. It’s kind of — not a play off — but it’s a play for you, as a DB, to just go do something you don’t really do.

“So hopefully that opens somebody up, like [Justin] Madubuike or ‘Dafe’ [Odafe Oweh] or somebody inside — Mike Pierce,” he said. “Maybe I get the slide coming up my way, and they don’t account for him on the inside or something like that. And if they don’t account for me, then I can go run and make a play. So, it’s a win-win when you can put pressure on the offense, and I think it’s fun.”

Help for hip-drop tackles?

It will be interesting to see what the league or competition committee comes up with regarding the hip-drop tackles used by Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson a week ago.

Logan used one on Ravens tight end Mark Andrews that led to a likely season-ending ankle injury and then later in the game near the right sideline on Jackson.

Andrews was near the goal line, so there wasn’t time to decide whether to use proper technique.

Since the Ravens moved to Baltimore from Cleveland in 1996, the team has never practiced hip-drop tackles, but I’ve seen a lot of Ravens tackle opposing players with a similar method.

It’s not meant to hurt anyone, just a way of taking a player down, especially if the defender is being dragged.

“I kind of have, in my mind, a plan for that, if I was king for a day, what I would do, but I’m not, so no one cares,” Harbaugh said of a potential league decision. “Right now, I just think it’s in good hands. The competition committee talks about those things, and if they decide to do something it would be for good reason.”


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