By: Mayer Fink  | 

NFL Season Debriefing: Looking Backward and Forward

Looking back on the 2019-2020 National Football League (NFL) season that has recently come to a close, I became aware of many new aspects of the game. This season provided the prospective decline of the New England Patriots’ dynasty and a rise in the fortunes of other NFL teams that might become new longstanding dynasties. In this article, I will outline a number of unique themes I noticed in the past NFL season.

Mobile Quarterbacks

Lamar Jackson — the MVP-winning quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens — and the dynamic Josh Allen — quarterback for the Buffalo Bills — reinforced the fact that teams can win with a running quarterback. Throughout the history of the NFL, there have been many dominant mobile quarterbacks from Fran Tarkenton to John Elway to Michael Vick. While fun to watch, mobile quarterbacks must still be capable of throwing effectively in order to see success in the NFL. Jackson’s rookie season in 2018 proved that he was going to be one of the best threats on the ground. In 2019, Jackson proved he can scorch defenses in the passing game as well as the running game, being named the NFL’s most valuable player in the process.

Looking forward, I see the upcoming 2020 quarterback draft class as not only being a class with multiple franchise-leading quarterbacks available but a class full of valuable mobile quarterbacks. Jalen Hurts of the University of Oklahoma comes to mind as one prominent example of an up-and-coming mobile quarterback. If, in addition, he can prove that he can successfully make the accurate throws, he should be a high draft pick and could be an incredible success in the NFL.

Turnover Within The League

The performance of the 49ers this season was an indication of how much turnover happens in the NFL. The 49ers went from last season’s 4-12 record to winning 13 games and becoming the National Football Conference (NFC) champions this year. The 49ers give hope to any team that has a terrible season — whether it be through bad luck or lack of personnel — that they can always come back from a poor situation.

Plenty of teams have underperformed in the 2019 season. With valuable free-agent acquisitions on the table, a strong draft class and a little luck, almost any team can become next year’s 49ers and dominate the league.

The fact that the 49ers had everything turn out in their favor can also allude to turnover in the league. Like the 2018 NFC Champion Rams the season before, I don’t think the 49ers will make the playoffs next season. Some teams — like the 49ers — have the fortune of going from terrible to great from one season to the next. Likewise, there will be a handful of teams that made the playoffs this year that will fail to live up to the expectations and fall back to the middle — or even bottom — of the pack. A lot went right for the 49ers this season; I doubt it will happen again. The 49ers will have a tougher schedule, a target on their back as the previous season’s NFC champions, and might be plagued with injuries to vital players on the roster. It’s unlikely that the 49ers will replicate their success next season.

The L.A. Football Experiment 

Los Angeles currently has two football teams, namely, the Chargers and the Rams; they don’t deserve one. I know this may upset the many Los Angeles folks in the YU community. Already a few years into the L.A. football experiment it looks like a rerun from the last time L.A. had two football teams. From 1982-94 Los Angeles had both the Raiders and the Rams. Both teams were popular when successful. However, when that was not the case, L.A. locals felt they had better things to do (like go to the beach) instead of attending a game. Recently — in a very similar manner — the Rams filled the stadium with fans when they were winning. Now that the Rams are an average team, they play most of their home games in front of half-empty stadiums or in front of fans mostly of opposing teams. According to conventional wisdom, fans are not willing to watch a losing team. However, I didn’t see the same reaction from other fan bases that saw equal or worse records for their teams, such as the Steelers, Raiders and Browns. Their fan bases stalwartly continue to support their teams.

And don’t get me started on the Chargers. The Chargers play in an MLS (Major League Soccer) soccer stadium that holds 30,000 fans and still can’t fill seats with Chargers fans. I don’t think I’ve watched a Chargers home game that hasn’t felt like a road game. The less said about the  Chargers’ situation the better.

Necessity of Offensive Lines 

This season also reinforced the fact that having a good offensive line is vital to a team’s success. The teams that made the playoffs all had strong offensive lines. The two teams in the Super Bowl — the 49ers and the Chiefs — didn’t have any weak links in their offensive lines. Some teams that many initially thought would make the playoffs didn’t due to their bad offensive lines. Championship teams know that any good quarterback can only be as good as the protection he is given. They therefore usually invest in their quarterback and the unit that can protect their quarterback, namely, the offensive line. Many thought the Cleveland Browns were going to make the playoffs this season. One of their biggest struggles, however, was the lack of a competent offensive line, causing a lack of an offensive surge behind the line. The bottom line is that blocking always matters.

Importance of the Secondary 

The 2019-20 season introduced me to a unit that every playoff team needs, namely, a good secondary. This doesn’t just mean having a shutdown cornerback (a cornerback that can eliminate the top receiver on the opposing team) or a ball-hawking safety (a safety that seems to always know where the ball is going and can make game-changing plays). A good secondary needs five or six reliable defensive backs to eliminate many pass-heavy attacks. One could make the argument that a strong secondary is the most important player for a playoff team. 

I used to be a strong believer in the idea that a good defense required depth at all positions and no glaring weakness. Watching the Louisiana State University (LSU) Tigers win the National Championship in college football and the Kansas City Chiefs win the Super Bowl forced me to reassess that belief. Overall, LSU didn’t have a great defensive line, but that didn’t matter because the LSU Tigers’ secondary was one of the best in the nation; their secondary made up for the rest of the defense.

This season leaves more doubt than ever before. For the first time since I started intensely following Pro Football (circa 2012), I don’t know which team will prove successful next year. That will primarily be determined by free-agency acquisitions and the strategic draft selections, both of which will carry much weight in determining the next NFL champions.

Photo Caption: An NFL player being tackled 
Photo Credit: Pixabay