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Cornerback: The NFL’s version of The Hunger Games

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NFL Unfiltered Week 12

If you like an NFL where average quarterbacks routinely throw for 300-yards, stop reading now, and get on with the rest of your day.  

However, if you believe the game suffers because of the competition committee’s insistence on making it easier for offenses, this is just for you.  

It’s a false narrative to suggest the league ruined football because of the freedoms given wide receivers.  It’s still an eminently watchable product and some of the best reality TV.  

However, all the rules changes designed to increase scoring—and ratings—mean the dominant, game-altering cornerback is likely gone forever.  And it isn’t a recent phenomenon.     

Contrary to popular belief, the trend toward offensive productivity began with a 1978 rule allowing receivers to run unimpeded after five yards. Before then, cornerbacks were difference makers and the league featured dozens of them.    

Consider, of the 15 cornerbacks in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, 11 played the bulk of their careers before 1978.  Only Deion Sanders, Darrell Green and Rod Woodson entered the hall since then.  A fourth—Ronnie Lott—clearly impacted the game as a cornerback, but moved to safety at 26- year five of his illustrious career.  Photo: NFL.com

Is there a player lining up against Calvin Johnson anywhere near that good?

Fortunately for fans, the games still feature bone-crushing hits and plenty of interceptions, but that is more a product of poor offensive coaching and quarterback ineptitude.  

Naturally, the statistical gurus aim to make the NFL strictly about numbers such as times thrown at a cornerback divided by the number of completions he allows. Or, opponents’ passer rating when targeted by the other team’s quarterback.  But you don’t need to know Sanders’ stats to understand his impact on the league.  

Recently, we received news of the 25 semi-finalists for induction and only former Cardinals’ cornerback, Aeneas Williams, is on the list.  

There isn’t a player in the league today anywhere near as good as Williams was- and he is unlikely to receive induction. He played on some awfully bad football teams throughout his career, and did it in St. Louis and Phoenix, two smaller media markets.   

As cornerbacks from this era are concerned, expect Charles Woodson and Champ Bailey to eventually don yellow blazers.

Still, the game suffers when an entire position group struggles for relevancy.  If you don’t believe that, you never saw Sanders play.  

For the unenlightened, Sanders, a cornerback from Florida State, is arguably the greatest single athlete to grace the gridiron.  Bo Jackson and a few others are also in the conversation, but in all honesty, none of them captivated our collective imaginations like “Primetime.”  

Sanders had no weaknesses in his game, transcends any era, and for those who like to talk about his tackling, recognize the fact that today’s corners don’t tackle well either.  Plus, they give up too many big plays and commit too many penalties.  

The efforts taken by the NFL to make the game easier—and safer—for the offense makes perfect sense from a marketing perspective, but it’s a shame it came at the cost of the cornerback.  

Every position on the field should matter and if you saw Deion Sanders play, you know what I mean.  

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THINGS THE PUNDITS CAN’T OR WON’T SAY: Week 12

-Death, taxes and the Detroit Lions doing a bunch of boneheaded things to lose football games are three of life’s sure things.  

-As the love for the Arizona Cardinals begins in earnest, it’s important to note they are 0-3 in their division.  

-Enough talk about Calvin Johnson, someone has to explain how Cleveland’s Josh Gordon is performing at such a high level in spite of Jason Campbell, Brandon Weeden and no semblance of a running game.  

-Speaking of Gordon, the 49ers’ failure to trade for him before the deadline is nearly an unforgivable error.

-The Eagles play their first professional quarterback in a month on Sunday. Not to mention the best defense.  Peyton Manning photo: USAToday.com

-Ryan Tannehill’s stat line is another reason why you have to watch the games for true perspective.  He threw for 300 yards but did not play well.  

-Broncos GM John Elway absolutely made the right decision signing Peyton Manning, but Manning suffers in cold weather.  It’s obvious.  

-This year’s AFC representative in the Super Bowl is largely irrelevant…unless the Saints get there.  If the Panthers, Seahawks or 49ers end up in New York in February, they won’t lose in those conditions.

-Make sure to include Andrew Luck when discussing the struggles of the NFL’s best young quarterbacks.

-Jim Harbaugh makes Colin Kaepernick the easy choice for quarterback most likely to grow into greatness.  

-At the highest level of football, a head coach ought to know when to throw his challenge flag.  Mike Shanahan challenged a call without ever seeing a replay.  

-Fantasy owners probably love Vernon Davis but if you watch the games, you realize there are at least 10 tight ends better than he is.  

-Redskins’ owner Daniel Snyder won’t do it, but he ought to rid himself of both Mike Shanahan and Robert Griffin III.  Each man is damaged goods.

Earl Myers is a freelance writer from the Philadelphia area. He closely follows North America's four major sports leagues but just about any sporting event gets his attention. His goal is to provoke a little thought in his readers.

 

Contact Earl at emyersiii@gmail.com  and follow him on Twitter @EMyersIII

 

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Deion Sanders photo: nfl.com

Manning photo: USAToday.com