The Spotter's View: Steroids, Mark McGwire And The NFL Lockout

Remember 1998? The onslaught of steroid induced home runs crushed by the likes of Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa? Well, statistically speaking, that season was an anomaly.

What does Mark McGwire have in common with Drew Brees?

Never had so much power been output before – let alone in such a condensed time. Looking back, there is only one rational explanation for this surge….the use of performance enhancing steroids.

Had McGuire and Sosa been clean, their statistical achievements for that season would have been more in line with their past performances. Instead, they bashed 70 and 66 home runs respectively. Huge outliers considering that only two men in the history of the sport had ever hit 60 before. Which brings me to the 2011 NFL season.

Remember 2011? The onslaught of passing yards accumulated by the likes of Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford? Well, statistically speaking, that season was an anomaly as well. In the history of the NFL up to but excluding 2011, there had been two quarterbacks to surpass 5,000 yards passing (Dan Marino – 1984, Drew Brees – 2008). Last year alone there were three (Brees, Brady and Stafford). Not to mention the fact that Eli Manning threw for 4,933 yards (6th most all-time) which makes 2011 the most prolific passing season in NFL history – and it ain’t close. All told, four of the top six passing seasons by a Quarterback happened last season. As big an outlier as McGuire and Sosa, maybe even bigger.

Which begs for the question to be asked: Why? Here’s The Spotter’s View:

Well, after listening to some really insightful conversation regarding this topic, I came away with the following answer.

The NFL Lockout that preceded the 2011 campaign was responsible. It didn’t click with me right away upon hearing that reason but once we explored it, the logic added up. Here’s the “how”…

Remember all the ESPN footage from the off-season that summer? It showed Brees and Brady and Aaron Rodgers leading their offensive teammates through drills. It was a lockout, remember, so no coaches were allowed. These drills had to be organized by players and they had to be held outside of team facilities. No supervision, no coaching, no trainers, nothing related to the team or the league. Just team-mates and a common goal. To improve. This was the story repeated over and over again on ESPN that summer. Brees leading his “camp”, Brady organizing a 7 on 7 passing drill, etc….always about the QB organizing a camp or a drill. Always about the offense getting together to work on timing. Working against air, they ran their routes and got as many repetitions in as possible. It helped.

What also helped was the fact that the defenses they’d soon be facing (and eviscerating) were NOT practicing. Not that they didn’t want to or that they were dis-interested. No. But the logistics of practicing defensively require that they lineup and face a full offense. Think about it….

Defenses are reactionary by nature. They respond to what an offense does either formationally or situationally or even according to personnel substitutions. This affects everything a defense does, literally. If an offense trots out 5 WRs, the defense will counter with a dime-package defense (4 pass-rush DLs, 1 Coverage LB and 6 DBs). If they offense comes out with 2 TEs and 2 RBs, the defense will likely sub-in their short-yardage  personnel (5 BIG DL, 3 Run Stopping LBs, 2 CB and a Strong Safety). So they react, they respond. It’s the nature of the defense. And this is just what happens before they huddle.

There’s also a myriad of decisions that need to be made and that will be based on the offenses’ play-calling after the huddle breaks. At the line of scrimmage, the defense may have to adjust to a formation shift or to motion. They may have to audible coverage or go to an “automatic blitz” based on some tendency they’ve picked up during the course of the game. And then there’s the actual play itself. Reading and reacting. Making adjustments on the fly. Getting repetitions at game-speed. None of that could occur without lining up against a full offensive team at real speed.

It’s a huge disadvantage that doesn’t get nearly enough press. All we hear about is how great Drew Brees is or how efficient Tom Brady plays the position. But what about the outliers?? There has to be another reason that 2011 was such a prolific passing season. It can’t just be that Brees and Brady and Stafford are soooooooo much better than all of their predecessors. That’s the thing with statistics and numbers….they don’t lie. If something is as out of whack as the 2011 season was with regard to passing, well there must be a logical reason behind it. You just have to look…if you do, you’ll typically find the “needle” in the haystack.

Just ask McGuire and Sosa.

Pre-Steroid McGwire

Tags: 5 Dan Marino Drew Brees Eli Manning Matthew Stafford The Spotter's View Tom Brady

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