At the Super Bowl, I asked a Chiefs defensive coach about the Eagles’ eye-popping success rate with quarterback sneaks, particularly the new look they ended up executing. six times in the Super Bowl, including two for touchdowns. It’s a game I invented, two-cheeked stealthwhen two, and sometimes even three players line up behind Jalen Hurts to push him forward.
“It’s a gray area,” said Alex Whittingham, Kansas City’s defensive quality control coach. “It’s not a rule they’re breaking right now, but they’re pretty much unstoppable when they do.”
That take turned out to be clever foreshadowing, as the NFL competition committee met this week at the NFL Scouting Combine with a long list of items to discuss, including the two-cheek sneak. On Sunday, the first of four days of competition committee meetings, the group had its first conversation about the future of the play.. The committee will revisit the topic later this month at league meetings in Phoenix, where it will decide whether to put it to a vote by owners.
A person briefed on the matter said the committee observed several examples of sneak drives, primarily the Eagles variations, and then discussed whether the play that closely resembles a rugby maul belongs in the NFL game. That person and another person briefed on the matter said the league office put the piece on the competition committee’s agenda this week, primarily because of its appearance.
“It’s a lousy room,” the first person said.
“It’s not football,” said one person who works in analytics for an NFL team.
The competition committee modifies the rules with the entertainment value of the product in mind, so the fans’ interest is the top priority when the 32 owners ultimately vote on the proposals. There is no specific proposed rule associated with push sneak; it was on the agenda as a subject for review and conversation.
The second person and a third person briefed on the matter said they don’t anticipate any changes in the push this year because no one in the room has expressed a strong enough opinion yet and the competition committee is generally slow to move forward on an issue. the first time it is lifted. “We’re not losing any sleep over this,” said the second person briefed on the matter.
But the play disturbs enough people for the second person to say Several teams ranked the two-cheek sneak among the top three issues in the competition committee survey that teams submit to the league office after the Super Bowl. A member of the team told me that their team put sneak push on their list of three items, citing the game’s almost automatic and predictable outcome as the reason it’s not “good for the game”. He compared it to the owners’ vote to increase the difficulty of the extra point by moving the kick from the 2-yard line to the 15-yard line.
Pushing an offensive teammate has been legal in the NFL since 2005, when the league clarified blocking rules to aid officials in their judgment during games. The second person briefed on the matter said that when the league removed language prohibiting pushing, it never anticipated the unintended consequence that teams would design plays around pushing players forward. And no team planned for the surge like the 2022 Eagles did, with 41 sneaks for a 90.5% conversion rate.. By the end of the season, the Bills, Ravens, and Bengals had all lined up in a push formation or had run some variation of the push themselves.
In January, I reported that some NFL teams had complained to the NFL officiating department during the season about the legality of the Eagles’ game-breaking push, and the officiating department responded by circulating a video after week 8. this confirmed that the Eagles were in fact following the rules when it came to pushing (except for the two times this season they shot).
After this strengthening of the rule, what is the problem with this perfectly legal game? NFL coaches have a set pattern when a team exploits a rule advantage a little too well: complain, then copy. This piece had apparently entered the copying stage, but it is still under scrutiny.
Based on conversations with NFL coaches, the biggest reason I heard for questioning this play was the aesthetics of the play, the fact that players lined up so close together and pushing each other the others forward is somehow offensive to the viewer, that it seems too different from football. , looks too much like rugby, even if last time I checkedfootball is a product of rugby.
NFL owners have always been concerned with the optics and entertainment value of their product. Look no further than the emphasis on punishment for provocation and the strict specifications of uniform socks. But when I asked NFL scouts, coaches and club personnel at the combine, none could remember a play that was banned primarily because of its appearance.
Another aspect of the game that the competition committee has discussed and will monitor is the risk of injury. There is no data on game-related injuries, as no players were injured during a sneak push. Commanders head coach and competition committee member Ron Rivera said during his press conference Tuesday that the potential for injury is one of the “ramifications” of the game.
“I don’t know if people are necessarily against it, but rather if they are trying to see what the consequences will be in the future,” Rivera said. “But you have to have a thorough discussion, and that’s what we’re looking forward to once we get to Arizona, is having a thorough discussion with the entire membership.”
Later that day, as Rivera was leaving a competition committee meeting, I asked him which side of the coin he leaned on. “I’m right in the middle,” he says.
Nick Sirianni, the head coach responsible for the controversial play, emphasized Tuesday that the two-cheek sneak play is not the same play every time. It’s neither boring nor predictable, becauseThe Eagles have proven multiple times this season that they can threaten the stealth push and get a completely different play out of it.
“That’s kind of what football is, isn’t it? » Sirianni said during his combined press conference. “The defense thinks it’s this play, so we ran the exact opposite play, and it ended in a touchdown, right? …
“Some of the wrinkles that were coming out of it, I thought it was good for the game.”
Sirianni found a supporter in Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, who appreciates rugby’s influence on football and said that if there was no change, his team would design games like push sneak.
“It’s an opportunity for the game to evolve,” he said. “…Other people might think this is such a departure from what we’ve done in the past, like, oh, we can’t do that! I don’t think like that. I think that could be a really cool thing.
“But it would be a game changer. The fact that they are considering preventing this from happening, I can understand. We hold on to what we know and don’t go into areas we don’t know. I was excited about it and thought it was cool. I thought it was worth praising their initiative to go this far. It looked like rugby, and rugby is a great sport, and that has a lot to do with what football is.
“I’m a little jealous we didn’t come up with that idea,” new Broncos coach Sean Payton said Tuesday during his news conference.
Several NFL club personnel I spoke with argued that it would be difficult to get 24 votes to ban sneaks. As victims of rule changes typically do, the Eagles are building their relationship with the committee, and former Eagles offensive coordinator and competition committee member Frank Reich is known to be an ally of the sneaky two-cheek.
Some free advice for the Eagles if they want to preserve the power of the push sneak in the long run: Stop running it on first and second downs, and stop running it multiple times in a row. Several people briefed on the subject pointed out that if this play was a more important part of a team’s offense, such as if it was called on first down or on consecutive plays, it would create stronger opinions and push the committee to act.
Once last season, the Eagles made three consecutive sneaks, converting two of the three, the third for a touchdown.
“All I know is that everything we do is legal and it works, and just because people are doing something really good doesn’t mean it should be banned,” the director said. Eagles general Howie Roseman Tuesday during his press conference.
And here is the trap. If the Eagles were a little worse in this game, or did it a little less often, this wouldn’t even be on the agenda at all.
(Photo: Adam Bow/Sportswire Icon via Getty Images)