Several things are occurring during this NFL season that make me believe that a lack of discipline is turning into badly played football games.
First off, anecdotally speaking, the number of penalties is astounding me. It seems in almost every game, one of the teams, has double-digit penalties. It’s not unusual to see a team with over 100 yards in penalty yards.
Then there’s the atrocious special teams play. I can’t remember a year in which more games have been decided by poor play on special teams. Not astounding returns so much as embarrassing, bone-headed, carelessness.
The game is turning into a personality based circus. I don’t remember many personalities on the great champions of yesteryear. Actually, there aren’t many personalities on today’s good teams either, except maybe the head coaches which is as it should be. No Randy Mosses, Terrell Owenses, Chad Ochocincos. All cancerous tumors that travel around making every one of the their teams’ games all about themselves. And their lack of discipline is infectious to teammates. Witness what’s happened in Minnesota after the Randy Moss carnival of idiocy. It’s not just off-field issues though; Coaches such as Chuck Noll and Bill walsh were well known for the exacting attention to detail they expected during practice. Don Shula’s teams were almost always the least penalized teams during his years as coach. It’s difficult to believe that this is a coincidence, and shows that coaches have a significant impact in on-field discipline of players.
Every year the best teams are not the “flashy” teams. They are the teams that are like efficient machines. They are so efficient in their execution as to be absolutely frustrating to their opponents. Because every player is drilled to respond a certain way in a certain situation, they minimize free-lance mistakes. Penalties, sacks allowed, turnovers, special teams. Want to find the measure of good coaching? Look for those four statistics in the box score and you’ll be able tell who won the game without looking at the score. Success in those areas is mostly determined by execution, not raw talent or speed. They are the result of a team mindset which the coach is primarily responsible for forming–or allowing.
I think of the great coaches–they were all Lords of Discipline. Lombardi, Noll, Shula, Ditka,Levy, Landry, Walsh. They required professionalism from their players. As Mike Ditka once said: “You get from people what you allow.” And certainly we see this on many teams today. The inmates are running the asylum.
There are still teams that show they have discipline. That machine-like quality that makes their opponents grind their teeth. I watched the Packers play last night. They did everything right, while the Vikings looked liked confused college players. The Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots, too. In the age of NFL parity, coaches may, more than ever, be the key to NFL dynasties.