NFL Defenses Will Survive “Hip-Drop” Ban

In 1968, major league batters hit .237, the lowest average in major league history — and Bob Gibson logged an ERA of 1.12, the lowest since Dutch Leonard's 1.04 in 1914.

Six other pitchers had ERAs of under 2.00 that year, and Boston's Carl Yastrzemski won the American League batting title — at .301!

So that December, baseball's owners lowered the pitcher's mound by five inches — and to add insult to injury (at least for the pitchers anyway), also shrank the size of the strike zone.

But did these changes make pitching a lost art in what was then still our national pastime?

Hardly: In 1972 — the year before the designated hitter was adopted by the AL (the NL finally followed suit in 2022) — MLB batters hit .244, and Luis Tiant, a teammate of Yastrzemski, led the majors in ERA, at 1.91. Those figures do not represent any massive improvement in hitting from 1968.

This is all well and good, one might say. But how is this relevant in our new national pastime — the NFL — in 2024?

At their spring meeting in Orlando, the NFL owners voted unanimously to ban a tackling technique known as the "hip-drop tackle."

The usual suspects — the vast majority of whom have never played the game on any level in their entire lives (and are thus the equivalent of "chickenhawk" politicians who lead the charge for war after they themselves had never served in one when they were the right age to have done so) — are kvetching that this new rule, just like they did about the rule that banned the "horse-collar tackle" that was implemented starting in 2005, will make the game "softer."

If one wants to be a cynic about this, they can claim that the owners want to see fewer "skill-position" (personally, I hate that term ... but still) players (a thinly-veiled euphemism for quarterbacks, and, to a lesser extent, running backs and wide receivers) get injured — and if one wants to accuse the owners of hypocrisy on the grounds that higher-scoring games are contrary to the "competitive balance" that the owners claim to stand for (does Miami's 70-20 win over Denver last season ring a bell?), they are well within their right to do so.

Be that as it may, a study of how frequently the new penalty (15 yards and an automatic first down, same as for a horse-collar tackle) is likely to be called that was conducted before the owners took their vote on it is that it is likely to be called approximately 230 times per (regular) season. That's less than once per game since there are 272 games in an entire regular season.

And you know what they say: offense sells tickets (and TV ratings points, too), but defense wins games — and when evaluating defenses, everything is relative — a concept that New England Patriots strong safety Jabrill Peppers seems not to understand.

Peppers had this to say about the hip-drop tackle ban on The Social Media Platform Formerly Known As Twitter: "Yes I'm p****d off, soft a** league they got me in. Can't even play like the guys I grew up idolizing (e.g., Jack Tatum?). Just put flags on us and everyone can play til they're 40 (and what would be so terribly wrong with that?)."

If Peppers would only look at this situation dynamically and not statically, he would realize that how a team's defense performs relative to the league average is all that matters: in 1977 — the year before the NFL took its first step down the slippery slope of "softness" by enacting the chuck rule — the typical NFL team gained/scored (and therefore, the typical NFL defense allowed) 285.8 yards and 17.2 points per game.

By 2020, when the COVID pandemic had coincided with an offensive pandemic in the NFL, the league averages were 359.0 and 24.8.

Since then, however, NFL offenses have gone into a decline of sorts, with yardage in 2023 down to 331.6 per game, and scoring dropping to 21.8 points per game.

If NFL defenses could survive everything from the chuck rule to the ban on the horse collar tackle, rumors of their death in the wake of this latest "crusade" against them are apt to be greatly exaggerated.

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