Your Halfway NFL Update: The Kids are Alright.

steelers

BY DAN

So if our readership stats are right, you’re Australian (and my mum). At some stage of your life you’ve probably said something like ‘Grid Iron is so boring’ or ‘why do they all wear pads?’

Forget that mess. You love the American Football – or as it is known, the National Football League (NFL). The NFL is great because a) it is sport, b) it makes Monday at work bearable as I stare at my phone instead of working, and c) it is endlessly and breathlessly analysed in what is often a highly intelligent manner. This is in stark contrast to Australian Football (of all codes), in which nuffies who once played the game can’t be bothered (or are unable – Brad Fittler I’m looking at you) to explain the finer intricacies of the game, so rely on clichés like ‘these boys are all effort’ and ‘they’re really getting stuck in’. Trying hard doesn’t matter in the NFL; because no matter how hard you try, if the people across from you have a better strategy, or are more talented, or are better athletes, you’re screwed.

So far the NFL season has gone largely as expected. Despite a hammering on Sunday, the Denver Broncos are on track to make it back to the Superbowl. The team that hammered them, the New England Patriots, continues it’s now 13 years of excellence, a run so sustained and impressive that you can’t help but love them. The Seattle Seahawks, last year’s champions, are having some problems replicating last year’s success, but they’ll be back in the playoffs and have the talent to make another run. The Raiders, Jaguars, Rams, Titans and Texans all pretty much suck in the way everyone thought they’d suck before the season.

But there is something that has piqued our interest recently. Over the last two weeks, one of the game’s most renowned franchises[1] has unleashed a display of offensive football that suddenly and surprisingly not only puts it among the elite offences in the competition, but in history. Over the last two weeks, Ben Roethlisberger[2] has broken the record for most touchdown passes over two games, unleashing twelve touchdowns in two weeks against actually good teams. For a team that prior to the season was considered at best an also-ran in the AFC[3], there is now discussion as to whether Roethlisberger may be the MVP of the league.

How has this been done? Protection and drafting.

Protecting the quarterback is fundamental to a successful offence. If you can’t protect the quarterback, he won’t have either the time or the space to make successful throws. This year, the offensive line has been much improved, giving ‘Big Ben’ sufficient time to make throws to his receiver core.

And nowhere is the good drafting of the Steelers’ front office more obvious than in that receiver core. Number one receiver Antonio Brown, drafted by the team in the sixth round of the 2010 draft – has often been a lone hand in recent years – seemingly always coming down with 8 catches for 80+ yards each week. This year he has been even better, averaging over 100 yards a week. That the Steelers are able to get this kind of production out of a late round pick is a testament to the skill of the front office.

But over the last two years the Steelers have also added Marcus Wheaton (2013 draft) and Martavis Bryant (2014 draft). Bryant – primarily as a deep threat – and Wheaton have provided extra options for Roethlisberger, preventing defences from focusing on any one receiver. This has been more pronounced in the last few weeks as the rookie Bryant began to get more and more time on the field.

Together with the offensive line these newly drafted receivers has created an offence who’s success – for these two weeks at least – has never before been seen in the National Football League. It may not continue, but it will be fun to see if it does.

[1] Americans – why do you have to ruin everything fun by making it a business? Just call it a fucking team.

[2] Don’t look up his past. It’s a bit depressingly and allegedly rapey

[3] American Football Conference. Don’t worry, it’s easily distinguished from the NFC – National Football Conference. Not to mention the USAFC…no I just made that up.

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