NFL teams have forgotten how to earn tough yards

Rob Carr

As the NFL continues to become more pass-friendly by the week, teams are forgetting how to get the crucial yards.

Last Sunday, the San Diego Chargers found themselves inside the Washington Redskins 1-yard line with a first-and-goal, trailing 24-21 with less than a minute to play.

Despite having two timeouts, the Chargers decided to run once, and throw twice on three chances to steal an important road win. All three plays failed, and ultimately so did San Diego, falling 30-24 and dropping out of the current AFC playoff picture.

This sequence not only illustrates how one game was lost, but how many have been this year because of teams becoming so pass-reliant. Only 15 years ago, you would likely have seen a team in San Diego's position bring in a fullback and two tight ends before plowing forward.

Now? A Danny Woodhead draw play, a fade pattern and a rollout by Philip Rivers.

Incredibly, this is not isolated thinking. Two Monday nights ago, the St. Louis Rams had a golden opportunity to beat the Seattle Seahawks with a fourth-and-goal from Seattle's 1-yard line. Despite having the immortal Kellen Clemens under center and having already run for 200 yards in the contest, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer made the jaw-dropping call to throw a timing route into the corner of the end zone.

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The result? Predictable. Clemens missed badly on the throw, and the Seahawks danced all the way to the airport.

To a lesser extent, the Buffalo Bills were guilty of goal-line gaffes. Leading 10-3 against the Kansas City Chiefs in the third quarter, Buffalo had first-and-goal at the 1-yard line following a pass interference call. To the Bills' credit, they ran twice but found nothing.

On third down, Jeff Tuel dropped back and hit Chiefs corner Sean Smith in stride for a 100-yard interception return, tying the score and changing the game. If Buffalo executes on first or second down, Tuel does not need to make that throw. Instead, the Bills can't get one yard on two tries with C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, and leave the matter to Mr. Tuel.

Certainly, the rules now dictate teams throw the football more. The cornerbacks can not touch receivers at all past the 5-yard buffer zone and should a defender even graze a helmet while trying to make a tackle, it is 15 yards and a first down.

For teams with great quarterbacks, it's a no-brainer to make the skies dark. Yet, there is, and will always be, a time and place to pound the ball between the tackles. So much more can go wrong throwing a pass than can happen when running a simple dive play into the gut. Even a "safe" pass can be tipped at the line, dropped, or be affected by bad weather conditions.

The Rams and Chargers are only a few examples of this shift in thinking, albeit the most glaring, of teams that abandoned the most basic play in football.

At the end of the day, both needed three feet to win a crucial game. Both came up short.

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