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Bob Ryan

Taking the ball, rushing it

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / October 25, 2011

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October 25. Height of football season. So much to talk about, so little time.

But let’s start with this. Are you enjoying the NPL season? That would be the National Penalty League.

I mean, I’m all for protecting the quarterback, but what we are witnessing each weekend is an NFL descending into two-hand touch territory. Don’t laugh.

Exhibit A, B, C, D, and right through at least X was a flag thrown on Green Bay’s wondrous linebacker Clay Matthews for a hit on Minnesota quarterback Christian Ponder Sunday. If any high school or college coach happened to be looking for a teaching video on how to rush the quarterback, and, more importantly, what to do once you arrive at the scene, this play would have been the perfect selection.

Matthews burst into the Minnesota backfield with Ponder in his sights. He led with his shoulder, not his head. He did not go for the knees. He did not go for the head. He went for the strike zone, if you will. It was a pure, hard tackle.

But wait, there’s more. He took Ponder to the ground, sure. But he did not in any way, shape, form, or concept known to man drive him into the ground. He put him down, and that was all. And once he had him down, he immediately rolled away from his victim.

He had done exactly what a pass rusher is supposed to do, no more, no less.

His reward? A roughing-the-passer call.

If a man can’t do this, he can’t play football. It’s that simple. In fact, it’s not football, at least not tackle football as we’ve come to know it for 125 years.

If a man can’t do what Clay Matthews did without worrying that he’ll be flagged, he might as well not cross the line of scrimmage.

Here’s another thought. I really don’t know why NPL offensive coordinators waste any time working up elaborate game plans.

Who needs a game plan when all anyone has to do is have the QB heave the ball a minimum of 25 yards downfield a minimum of 25 times a game and await the pass interference call that is likely to come at least 25 percent of the time? (You can call it the Herman Cain approach.) I’m amazed the league’s offensive coordinators and head coaches haven’t yet caught on. Perhaps it’s because what’s going on is so truly unbelievable they can’t bring themselves to believe it’s really happening.

But it is.

In an obvious effort to promote offense (which every sport believes the average fan is far more interested in than the other thing) the NFL has done a 180 since the good old days when Rodney Harrison & Co. were - let’s be honest - mugging Marvin Harrison & Co in those scintillating Patriots-Colts battles.

Colts honcho Bill Polian whined and cried about New England’s big meanies, and he is a man of considerable clout, because in the New World Order defensive backs now run the risk of a pass interference call if they consider blinking while the ball is in the air. Breathing? Forget it.

That being the case, why would any offensive coordinator not wish to take advantage of the new reality?

Now I’m sure Tim Tebow’s many detractors would say, in an overtly sneering manner, that he should go for the home run ball on every single down because he’s not going to complete a pass any other way. And for a while Sunday they may actually have had a point.

Midway through the third period of the Broncos’ game in Miami, Tebow had gained 2 yards on 10 pass plays, which comes out to an average of 7 inches, give or take a milimilimilimeter.

Of course, when the game was over, everything in the Great Tebow Debate was right back where it started. The Tebow worshippers could point to a pair of late-game touchdown passes, a game-tying 2-point conversion scamper, and a scoreboard that read DENVER 18 MIAMI 15, and say, “See, the guy is a winner, period.’’

The Tebow loathers could point out that with 5:23 remaining the guy was 4 for 14 for 40 yards and the Denver offense was 0 for 10 in third-down conversions.

They could say that he had nothing to do with the recovered onside kick that led to the tying TD. They could point out that he had been sacked seven times, and not all of it was the fault of his protectors. They could remind people that they were playing the Dolphins, who firmed up their chances to get Andrew Luck with another overall wretched performance that gives them 12 losses in their last 13 home games. They could say, “Hey, let’s see what happens when he meets up with Ndamukong Suh and his buddies next Sunday.’’

If you’re like me, you love this. I love the idea of an oddball player in our midst, a guy whose very presence drives the football mavens crazy.

I know his mechanics are faulty. I know he has yet to prove he can handle blitzes or make the bang-bang reads and deliver the precision darts that are the key to success for the Bradys, Mannings, Rodgerses, and Breeses of the world - the operative word “yet.’’

But I also know that many of the Tebow critics are the same people, or, at least, the same type of people, who revered Jeff George because he was such a perfect quarterbacking machine, the only problem was that he had the huddle presence of a prison camp guard.

As hokey and Hollywoodish as it sounds, all available anecdotal evidence suggests that Tebow is an inspiring leader who, technical flaws aside, has that certain je ne sais quoi that makes a quarterback a quarterback and not just a guy with a strong arm who can bark out a few signals.

We ought to have a far clearer picture by Jan. 1, when the Broncos conclude their season at home against Kansas City.

Geez, I never got to talk about how great the Packers are, or how bad the Colts are. Told you there wasn’t much time. But we’ve got 10 weeks to go.

Whoa, duck! Someone just threw another flag.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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