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Football rules favor offenses; can steps be taken to create more competitive balance?

by Jason Kersey Published: October 2, 2012
West Virginia and quarterback Geno Smith will try to get back on track Saturday against Oklahoma. AP PHOTO
West Virginia and quarterback Geno Smith will try to get back on track Saturday against Oklahoma. AP PHOTO
NORMAN — West Virginia 70, Baylor 63.

Texas 41, Oklahoma State 36.

Are scores like that good for football? Bob Stoops, who cut his teeth as a defensive coach before becoming Oklahoma’s coach in 1999, called the West Virginia-Baylor game a defensive “nightmare.”

It’s tough, because the rules — not allowing defensive backs to rough up receivers beyond 5 yards of the line of scrimmage, for example — are generally slanted to favor offenses. And it seems obvious that lots of flashy offensive plays, touchdowns and shootouts are good for business because that seems to be what fans want.

Sooners defensive coordinator Mike Stoops was asked Monday if there are any rule changes that can be made to bring more competitive balance.

“No,” he answered, “Not unless they give us 12 guys.

“There’s certain things that slant (toward the offense). I think you’re seeing — anytime the quarterback can handle the ball in the shotgun, where he can fake the run and pull it … I think the quarterback run game is always the difference.

“In the NFL it’s usually the difference. Guys that can scramble and create plays with their feet are always going to create problems.”

But one huge advantage offenses have over defenses in the current game seems to be the quarterback’s ability to look to the sideline for instruction after the huddle is broken, or — in a no-huddle system — the offense is lined up for the next play.

A coach in the press box, who can see everything with a bird’s eye view, quickly relays a message to a coach on the sideline, who signals in an audible to the quarterback.

It seems a whole lot more difficult for a defense to employ such a system, just because it’s harder to decipher what an offense is going to do just off pre-snap reads.

So I asked Mike Stoops if quarterbacks’ ability to receive those late orders puts defenses at a disadvantage.

“It’s a big part of it, but it takes a lot of pressure off the quarterback if somebody upstairs can reset a play and get a better play for that particular call the defense is in,” he said.

“You’ve got to be able to react to it and then get it set quickly. Then they react if they see something they like, and they try and get into a better play and then you switch your defense.

“It’s getting it communicated defensively. It’s a lot easier getting it communicated offensively than it is defensively.”

A constant cat-and-mouse game like that seems to always leave the offense in the best position, though, doesn’t it?

“It’s hard to get the timing of it without showing a particular blitz, and then they check out of it and you’ve got to go to another one,” Mike Stoops said.

“Their run plays, he always has the option to throw it. That’s what you see in this game. You see all the runs, but they’ve got an option to throw it every single time they have a run play.

“If the quarterback sees something as the ball is snapped, he has the option to throw it as well as run the play. There’s a lot of built-in adjustments, and that’s where quarterbacks have to be good. They call plays, but there’s adjustments to every play as the ball is being snapped a lot of people don’t see.”

My question is this: How much would defenses improve if a rule was put in place that barred the quarterback from seeking help once he’s broken the huddle? Coaches can train the heck out of their field generals to call their own audibles, and quarterbacks can get help via substitutions, etc., before the huddle is broken.

But once you’re at the line of scrimmage, no more help from coaches. Quarterbacks are on their own to make reads and change plays as they see fit.

I don’t know whether that would work or not, but it seems patently unfair to defenses that offenses can be given such help on every single play.

What does everyone else think? Do you see any rule changes that might bring offenses and defenses closer to even, or do you like things the way they are?

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by Jason Kersey
OU Sports Reporter
Jason Kersey became The Oklahoman's OU football beat writer in May 2012 after a year covering high school sports and OSU recruiting. Before joining the newspaper in November 2006 as a part-time results clerk, he covered high school football for...
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