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Labriola On

Labriola on Cam and Boz, The Rule

Ready or not, here it comes:

  • The NFL Pro Bowl is a contradiction in so many ways.
  • The actual game is said to be unwatchable because of the sanitized brand of football it presents, but the annual ratings defy that sentiment. Last year, for example, the game drew a 4.2 rating and attracted 7.4 million viewers for ESPN on a Sunday night in late January, and while those numbers declined from the previous year, the Pro Bowl was the most-watched cable TV program that night, and the only shows that did better ratings were "60 Minutes" (11.51 million viewers), "NCIS: Los Angeles" (11.29 million) and "Madam Secretary" (8.71 million).
  • And sticking with television for just another second, the Pro Bowl got better ratings than all but six of the college bowl games, including that thrilling Clemson-Alabama matchup for the national championship.
  • Another thing about the Pro Bowl is it's largely a vote of the players and coaches that determine who gets selected, and – maybe more interesting to many members of the media – who didn't get selected. There is a fan vote component, too, but the final outcome is based on the ballots submitted by players, coaches, and fans each counting toward one-third of the total. It's interesting to me that after being told by so many players what people outside the locker room don't know about it that the players themselves never get it right, either.
  • It's difficult to argue that a team placing eight of its players on the AFC's Pro Bowl roster had a guy snubbed who was deserving, but that's how I view the Cam Heyward situation. The unfortunate thing for Heyward right off the bat is that for voting purposes he's placed in the same category as defensive ends who play in a 4-3 alignment when his job description is much more similar to the defensive tackles in a 4-3 defensive alignment.
  • Mike Tomlin explained this situation a few weeks ago.
  • "(Cam is) playing at a Pro Bowl caliber level," said Tomlin back in early December. "It's always an interesting thing in today's NFL with half the teams being 3-4 teams and half the teams being 4-3 teams, because the reality is that your 3-4 defensive ends get slighted because they're described as defensive ends, and Cam Heyward is an elite interior rush-man. He's a defensive tackle from a Pro Bowl standpoint and should be treated as such. Geno Atkins often goes to the Pro Bowl as a defensive tackle. He's a top-flight interior guy from Cincinnati and I think he's got six sacks (nine sacks now). To put it into perspective, Cam Heyward is an interior rush-man and we realize his sack total. But he always gets categorized as a defensive end because of the scheme in which he plays. It's really the same issue that 4-3 outside linebackers have. You could be a dominant 4-3 outside linebacker, with 130-some tackles but not a lot of sacks. But if you get a 3-4 outside linebacker who has 10-11 sacks, he's going to go (to the Pro Bowl) at the outside linebacker position. So 4-3 outside linebackers and 3-4 defensive ends often get slighted because of numbers and the things numbers may tell people regarding the Pro Bowl."
  • The interior defensive linemen on the AFC Pro Bowl roster are Atkins, Jacksonville's Malik Jackson, and Tennessee's Jurrell Casey. Their respective statistics entering this weekend's games: Jackson has eight sacks, two passes defensed, and four forced fumbles; Atkins has nine sacks, no passes defensed, and no forced fumbles; and Casey has five sacks, one pass defensed, and no forced fumbles. Atkins and Casey were voted in as the starters.
  • By comparison, Heyward has 10 sacks, three passes defensed, and one forced fumble. But instead of being compared to Atkins, Casey, and Jackson, he in on the ballot in the same category as Calais Campbell (14.5 sacks), Joey Bosa (11.5 sacks), and Khalil Mack (10.5 sacks).
  • Another Pro Bowl issue drawing some attention is the selection of Chris Boswell as the placekicker instead of Baltimore's Justin Tucker. The common refrain here is that Tucker is the better kicker, but this year he's not. Not statistically, anyway.
  • Going into the weekend's games, Boswell has 128 points and Tucker has 121. Boswell has made 91.7 percent of his field goal attempts to Tucker's 90.6 percent. Boswell is 4-for-4 from 50-plus yards (100 percent), while Tucker is 5-of-7 (71.4 percent). Boswell has four game-winning field goals, including one from 53 yards in Cincinnati and one from 46 yards in the division-clinching win over the Ravens. Tucker had no game-winning field goals, but to be fair he didn't miss an attempt in either of the Ravens' three-point losses this season, either.
  • It's OK to think Tucker is a better kicker, but Boswell is having a better year. This was one the voters got right.
  • The rule was applied correctly, we are being told. Maybe it's a bad rule, we are being told, but that's the rule.
  • Well, it might be one of the rules, but it's not The Rule. If The Rule had been correctly applied, the call on the field would have stood. And the call on the field in the final minutes of Steelers-Patriots was a completed catch, and a touchdown.
  • The cornerstone of instant replay, which is being referred to here as The Rule, the way it was sold to the skeptics in the NFL and to the masses more than 20 years ago, was that this was being implemented not as a way of removing the human element from the game but only as a method to correct the obvious errors that arise every now and then.

Steelers players have fun singing annual Christmas carols.

  • The language inserted into the instant replay rule was that there had to be indisputable visual evidence to overturn the call made on the field. Indisputable visual evidence was the standard, and by having the on-site referee make that determination, we were told, would make sure that the indisputable visual evidence standard was upheld because the referee and his crew are a team, too, and their desire would be to get it right without overreaching.
  • The standard isn't the standard anymore, and it hasn't been for a while, and the standard really got tossed aside when the league went to having replay reviews done by somebody stationed in NFL headquarters in New York City.
  • That's the new standard. Unfortunately.
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