The Rules For Winning in the NFL v2.0

Part 1 reposted 2007’s Rules for Winning in the NFL. It was a good way to look back and see what was working then. Everything is changing. The NFL is always on the move. The rules change because the NFL changes.

Some of the change is transparent. As an example, the rule change where a kickoff touchback gave a team the ball at the 25 yard line instead of the 20 yard line has had a lot of impact. The NFL wanted more safety, so the NFL got what they wanted- fewer returned kickoffs. Like it or not, that made Special Teams less important. Then they moved the PAT back to the 15 yard line. That added 2 point conversions much more into the mix.

Some of the changes were more subtle. But seen over the past ~14 seasons, the shift is stark. Consider the ever growing importance of throwing the ball. The NFL wanted more passing. In 2006, when passing was already gaining plenty of momentum over previous decades, the NFL was 53% pass and 47% run. In 2020, it was 57% pass and 43% run. That may not seem like a big difference, but it is significant. That mix dictates how you draft and how you allocate the cap.

An even bigger way to see the change in the NFL is to go back to 1978. In 1978, teams passed 42% of the time and ran the ball 58% of the time. Why 1978? Two things happened.

In 1978, the NFL further freed up receivers with the illegal contact rule, restricting contact beyond 5 yards downfield. And it loosened the interpretations of holding by offensive linemen by giving them permission to extend their arms and open their hands on pass plays. This had the desired effect of opening up the passing game and reducing conservative play calling.

NFL Football Operations

The second thing was under the radar. Bill Walsh became a Head Coach a year later.

The 49ers were cellar dwellers and they did not start throwing the pigskin regularly in 1979. But the “West Coast Offense,” coined by Bill Parcells, was going to shape football for decades to come. It ushered in a wave of precision passing. Teams no longer ran the ball regularly on first down. Offenses are still shaped by these roots today.

The second wave of passing came as a result of different rules enforcement by officials for what was holding. Specifically, the NFL no longer called a penalty when an Offensive Lineman held in between the shoulders. This happened sometime around when the first “Rules v1.0” were published, further incentivizing passing. Why is this important to the Rules for Winning? Because the Quarterback has always been critical to the game of professional football, but today it is EVERYTHING.

RULE #1. QUARTERBACK.

That is it. Quarterback. Period. You can win a championship without a very good quarterback, but you better have 21 other really good players accompanying him. He needs to make plays. The NFL is a passing league. If your QB is pedestrian, you will be on the outside looking in. I have said this before, but the historical perspective is necessary… the great Vince Lombardi lamented how he wished the league had less weight on the QB. Yet in 1967, his last season as coach of the Packers, he still ran the ball on 72% of the snaps from scrimmage. 72%! Imagine what Lombardi would say about winning in the NFL now??!! It is a Quarterback league.

RULE #2. PROTECT THE QUARTERBACK.

Are you catching on yet? You better keep him healthy, upright, and able to do his job throwing the ball anywhere on the field. The second half of Eli Manning’s career was thrown down the toilet because he was constantly given shoddy protection. Remember the Phil Simms Rule of throwing the ball downfield? Well, that ain’t happening if you can’t protect your QB. GMs are figuring this out, paying not only Tackles huge money, but also paying up for Centers and Guards. We quantified this with Spotrac data (see ‘Manifesto’ link below) on average salaries, where the Offensive Tackle is paid the 2nd highest salary out of 12 positions on the field, the Center is now #3, and the Guard (yes, the formerly lowly Guard) is now #5.

RULE #3. RUSH THE QUARTERBACK.

Are you seeing the pattern? First you obtain a good QB. Next, you make sure you maintain/optimize him. And then when you are done doing those two things, you do your best to kill the other guy’s QB, because that is what they are trying doing to yours. This may seem overly simple, but as the late great Mr. Rogers (yes, that one) said:

Deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex.

Fred Rogers

If you are doing these Rules properly, they should be fairly simple and direct. Everything else flows from the first 3 Rules. Everything else SUPPORTS the first 3 Rules. This is a pyramid. Like it or not, this is how you win. If you do all 3 well, your odds of contending for a title are high. If you do 2 out of 3, you are competitive. If your team is doing 1 out of 3 well, it is not competitive. And if it does none of the 3 well, it is probably near or at the bottom of the NFL. How did your team score against this metric? Last season’s Super Bowl teams both had excellent QBs and Offensive Lines. TB had the NFL’s 3rd ranked pass rush. The Chiefs were ranked 12th.

The Bucs drafted Offensive Tackle Tristan Wirfs at 1.13 Overall last season. As a rookie, he started all 16 games, gave up 1 sack all year, protected Brady, and did everything except go to the Pro Bowl. Considering he finished as the best Offensive Lineman for the Bucs, their ascension to the Title could not have happened without Rule #2. In stark confirmation (and title game contrast), the Chiefs had solid OL protection until the Super Bowl, when both Tackles could not play. Mahomes had no protection and the Chiefs lost the game.

RULE #4. EVERY OTHER POSITION IS IN SUPPORT OF RULES 1-3.

4a) WRs are a dime a dozen. I know. I know. Better WRs have better separation, helping your team move the ball. Just click the link, because this is about availability. QB LT (and even EDGE, to a degree) are obtained through meticulous cultivation. WR, on the other hand, is a commodity exchange.

4b) RB is not an important part of winning in the NFL.

This is not your father’s NFL. Running and stopping the run are not 2 of the 3 keys to winning in the NFL, unlike what you may have mistakenly heard from one GM. We wrote a manifesto on this topic. Since that piece was written, the following year a former Round 1 RB was released, signed to a 1 year prove-it deal, played a complimentary role and won a ring. And, Saquon Barkley tore his ACL. Case closed.

4c) LBers are worth less today than 14 years ago, but they still matter.

Don’t tell Devin White or Lavonte David that LBers are unimportant.

4d) Safeties have a bigger role in today’s NFL.

Their size and speed are necessary as a response to more passing. (CBs, while obviously necessary, have been “commoditized” by the NFL’s rules to make passing easier.)

4e) Special Teams are still underrated, but less so.

Kickoffs have been neutered.

4f) A very good Offensive Line coach is almost critical.

This is in support of Rule #2.

4g) Tight End in the Red Zone.

RULE #5. YOU WIN THROUGH THE DRAFT.

5a) Trading Down in the Draft is great.

GMs overpay for the right to choose. This has been documented ad nauseum. It is still somewhat frightening to me that Dave Gettleman made the best Draft day decision of his career in moving down 9 spots for a R1 and R4 pick and would not have done that if a WR he wanted was on the board. I don’t care if that WR is Jerry freaking Rice, Trade Down.

5b) Second Round Draft picks are the best value in the draft. No sizzle, all steak.

Verbatim from the old list. God has blessed the second round and GMs still have not figured this out. Pound for pound, dollar for dollar, it is just insane how easy it is to build a team by just moving down and living in Round 2. Plus, you don’t get the divas, you get the guys with something to prove. This has been going on forever and it continues to go on forever. Mark Collins, Erik Howard, Pepper Johnson, Jumbo Elliott, Michael Strahan, Jason Sehorn, Amani Toomer, Tiki Barber, Joe Jurevicius, Osi Umneyiora, Chris Snee, Corey Webster, Steve Smith, Terrell Thomas, Linval Joseph, Johnathan Hankins, Landon Collins, Sterling Shepard, Dalvin Tomlinson, and now 2 more who I think will be special, Xavier McKinney and Azeez Ojulari.

5c) Free Agency. ‘B’ players at ‘A’ prices.

The easiest way to see how you build value is that the Draft is wholesale and Free Agency is retail. Where do you want to shop? Sometimes you have no choice. Picking up one or maybe two high priced items in a year may be necessary, but the rest of your team and the rest of the cap will need to support that. Remember that if you are always living in retail, your cap structure is not going to be competitive. (I’m not talking about the journeyman players of Free Agency. There is actually some value in that part of the market.)

RULE #6. PRINCIPLES AND BEST PRACTICES.

6a) Pitchouts still do not work in the red zone.
6b) Do the unpredictable. Once you are predictable, you are dead.
6c) Build your own Super Bowl blueprint.
6d) The only thing the Prevent Defense prevents you from doing is winning.
6e) The only thing the Prevent Offense prevents you from doing is winning.
gf) The only things worse than the Prevent Offense is the Prevent Offense when your Defense is weak/depleted by injury.
6g) It’s always the coach’s fault when a large lead is lost.
6h) The Bill Walsh ‘Quality Win’ (11+ margin of victory) is a necessary objective at all times because it enables you to win more games that are hotly contested.
6i) After 1st & Goal from the 1-2 yd line, if you fail to score a TD on your first three tries, kick the FG on 4th down.
6j) The Steve Young Rule: September is the new preseason. Continue to improve the quality of play each week, as the end of the season rarely resembles the beginning of the season.
6j) The Carl Banks Rule: You cannot turn it on and turn it off in the NFL. Do not take any game off or protect players from injury if a playoff spot has been clinched.
6k) Defense (still) wins championships. This is a league of Offense. But you have to be credible on Defense or else these high powered Offenses will run you over when it counts. In the last 8 years, the Super Bowl winner’s Defense was ranked an AVERAGE of 5th out of 32 teams. It would have been 4th averaged if Seattle ran Lynch on 2nd and Goal from the 1. As a football purist, it is still appropriate to let Defense get the last word in the Rules.

The Rules For Winning in the NFL, Part 1, v1.0

This NY Giants blog was started in November 2006, and on July 4th 2007, we published The Rules For Winning in the NFL. As many of you are aware, the blog migrated to different platforms along the way, and many years of posts were lost. At one point at the end of the first decade we were getting some of our posts reprinted in the NY Times “5th Down” online site. Thankfully the content from that site is still available, memorializing the “old” v1.0 rules. We will reprint them here to get a permanent record archived.

Tomorrow, for Independence Day, we will release The Rules For Winning in the NFL v2.0. Regular readers of the blog and Twitter will have some clues as to what (at least some of) it may look like. The NFL has changed in the past 14 years. The only constant is change. Some of ‘the Rules’ are no longer there. That does not mean they weren’t valid. They simply were rendered less impactful as the NFL evolved. Given how we have been espousing many of the ‘new’ (updated) Rules in recent years, this will be an opportunity to codify them. The Rules 2.0 will hopefully put more clarity into what is necessary today for NFL GMs to succeed.

The 2007 Rules For Winning in the NFL v1.0

1) Do not draft a “versatile” player in Round 1 of the draft. “Dominant” should be there, not versatile.
2) Left Tackle is a rare commodity. A good Left Tackle is better than a great ______ (fill in almost any other position).
3) WRs are a dime a dozen. Do not waste resources here; pick one up when you are close to the prize. They are always available.
4) “Linebackers, I collect’em.” — Bill Parcells.
5) Pitchouts do not work in the red zone.
6) Repeat after me, Do not go for the 2 pt. conversion until there are 6 minutes left in the game. If there are more than 8 minutes left in the game, it is a 99% certainty that it was the wrong decision.
6a) The Mike Tomlin Rule: The only thing worse than violating Rule 6 is violating Rule 6 AFTER a penalty makes it a 7 yd (or 12! or 17 yard) attempt.
7) The Devin Hester Rule: If there is a special teams player in the end zone on a FG attempt, it is probably a good idea to fake the kick.
8) Do the unpredictable. Once you are predictable you are dead.
9) Trading down in the draft is good.
10) Investing all of your resources in one player is (now, more than ever in the era of free agency) a mistake. Eli Manning, Herschel Walker, Ricky Williams… the teams that do the best are usually giving the pick and getting multiple players.
11) “Read and react” is for losers. Set the tone, dictate terms of engagement, let others copy your Super Bowl blueprint. By the time you copy someone else’s, the league has figured out how to adjust, so you are wasting your time.
12) Let the clock wind down to 3 seconds and kick your FG. I have never seen a team muff the (3rd down) attempt and kick on 4th down with the extra time that you left on the clock. I HAVE seen plenty of teams kick the FG and give the other team the opportunity to win when they got their hands on the ball again. (i.e. Dallas Monday Night 2003)
13) The two-week layover for the Super Bowl makes for a lousy game and improves the chances for the favorite.
14) Special teams are always underrated.
15) The only thing the prevent defense prevents you from doing is winning.
16) The only thing the prevent offense prevents you from doing is winning.
16a) The Kenny Holmes Rule: the only thing worse than the prevent offense is the prevent offense when your defense is exhausted/impaired by injury.
17) Players are told to play for 60 minutes. Yet who benches the head coach when he only coaches for 50?
18) The Fassel Rule of Prevent: It is always the coach’s fault when a large lead is blown/the game is lost.
19) The Fassel Rule of December: Practice in December without pads — your players will appreciate it and win many more games for you with their fresh legs.
20) The Bill Walsh “Quality Win” (winning by 11+ points) is a necessary objective at all times because it enables you to win MORE games that are more hotly contested.
21) After 1st and Goal from the 1-2 yard line, if you fail to score a TD on your first three tries, kick the FG on 4th down.
22) The Carl Banks Rule: You cannot simply turn it on and turn it off in the NFL. Play every game and maintain/improve on your high level of play.
23) Second-round draft picks are the best value in the draft. No sizzle, all steak.
24) # of headcases < = strong head coaches. (If you have a strong head coach, you can have up to 1 head case in the locker room. If you have a weak head coach, you cannot have any. A strong head coach with 2 head cases means a locker room infestation and problems.)
25) The Phil Simms Rule: You must stretch the field on offense. If you do not/cannot pass the ball >20 yards down field, LBers and safeties will choke off your offense.
26) Defense wins championships.

Day 3 Prospects

By position

1. G Alaric Jackson (move from Tackle ➡️ Guard)
2. G Jack Anderson
3. G Jaylon Moore
4. G Adrian Ealy (mauler!)
5. G Trey Smith
6. T Carson Green
7. T Tommy Doyle
8. T James Hudson
9. EDGE Hamilcar Rashed
10. DE Joshua Kaindoh
11. LB Cameron McGrone
12. LB Jabril Cox
13. NT B Brown
14. CB Rodarius Williams (UFA)
15. RB Pooka Williams (UFA Dave Meggett type)
16. K Jose Borragales

Giants Recap Day 1 & Day 2 of 2021 NFL Draft

We need to set the table. 10 days ago we delivered Wonder’s abbreviated 2021 Draft Preview, which included the following recommendation:

“He really prefers the Giants to trade down. Assuming Sewell is not there at 1.11, he’d like to see the Giants trade down to ~1.20 with the Bears and see who is available” 

Wonder 4/21/2021

I am not sure how you could have nailed it any better. Wonder was reliant on a cooperating and motivated Bears team to trade up for the QB. But before that could happen, a few other things needed to happen first.

You see, the Giants have a leaker within their organization. Outsiders may think that is paranoid, but the evidence is strong that others have reliable information about who the Giants are taking BEFORE the pick is made. Look no further than the coverage of Ralph Vacchiano of SNY.

Multiple sources have told SNY the Giants are determined to add another weapon to their Offense.

Ralph Vacchiano

Be it Waddle, Chase, or Smith, Vacchiano had the Giants taking a Wide Receiver.

You must remember that Vacchiano’s history with being right is far better than average.

1. He knew the Giants had interest in Conklin and Floyd in 2016.

2. He knew the Giants were taking Daniel Jones, “as high as 1.06 overall.”

3. And he absolutely nailed the Giants’ interest in a Wide Receiver on Day 1 of the Draft. When the Giants couldn’t get one of the 3 WRs, they pivoted and traded down. More on that in a second. But first, let’s continue with the leaker…

And beat the Giants to a Wide Receiver they did. Giants Nation was snakebit. Unless you were an Ultimate NY Giants fan. We were doing cartwheels. Davonta Smith may go to the Hall of Fame. Honestly, I do not give a cr*p. Taking a Wide Receiver in Round 1 is not a good decision. We have shown why, with data. It is not just a comparison of quality, but HOW LONG THEY STAY.

The Giants got paid handsomely. For the distaste of moving down 9 slots in the draft to 1.20, the Giants received a Round 5 this year (subsequently traded to move up five slots in Round 3 last night), a Round 1 in 2022 and a Round 4 in 2022. Slam dunk. You can look in the rear view mirror all you want, but you MUST trade down. There simply is not enough love for ANY one player to justify that (other than from a QB-desperate team for a QB in QB-driven league). The thing that should blow your mind is that if Davonta Smith was there at 1.11, Gettleman would not have even bothered trading with the Bears. Think about that. Malpractice. This is part of the reason I keep saying it until I am BLUE in the face, that this organization’s inability to Trade Down for FIFTEEN YEARS WAS ALL THE EVIDENCE YOU NEED TO KNOW IT WAS OF THEIR OWN CHOOSING, NOT LACK OF OPPORTUNITY. This time, a parting of the Red Sea, with significant help from Philadelphia, pushed the Giants and Gettleman down 9 spots. 9 spots. BFD. At this point, there is not a great deal of difference in the draft anyway. And yet the Giants collected a R1 R4 and R5 for the inconvenience. We tweeted last night in rejoice…

If you had any doubt about the full bloom love for Wide Receiver, Vacchiano was not done…

Lo and behold, WR Kadarius Toney was taken by the Giants at 1.20. Toney is a very good Wide Receiver, and Wonder likes the player. But we hate the position. “The draft is loaded with Wide Receivers into the 2nd and 3rd round, so to take one there makes no sense,” said Wonder. Add the understanding of deteriorated value in not being able to keep these players on your roster as foundational franchise elements, and it was another lost opportunity to take EDGE (Kwity Paye, who went next at 1.21) or Offensive Line (T Christian Darrisaw, who went 1.23) or others (T Jenkins, et al).

Toney will add a dimension to the Giants offense out of the slot. Like Beckham, Engram and Barkley, we like/d these skill players for their talent out of the draft, but we do not believe in their value in Round 1. He’s on our team, and of course we hope he kills it from here on out. At least we are grateful a 1.20 was used on a WR, not a 1.11, and that we have collected 3 more bites of the apple for trading down. Let’s celebrate the monster gift that the Giants will enjoy from moving down. It took 15 years. Great move.

In other draft commentary, in order to see just how great the Giants did in terms of the trade down value, contrast the cost of the Jets to move UP from 1.23 to 1.14. This is NEARLY IDENTICAL to what the Giants did. But the Jets gave up a 3.66, 3.86 and received a 5.143. In Draft Value Chart math, the Giants collected a net of +523 points. The Jets gave up … -45 points. Trading up gives away value, but in the Jets’ case, not a lot, and they got an Offensive Line building block, G/T Alijah Vera-Tucker. That is how you do it. Kudos to both NY Teams.

Here is how not to do it in the Draft. We have talked about this concept a lot over the years but it is worth showing how the sloppiness continues… Alex Leatherwood was taken at 1.17 by the Oakland Raiders. Let’s qualify this again, I do not care if Leatherwood goes to the Hall of Fame. The Raiders pissed away so much value, REACHING for a player that was more than likely to be there a Round later. Forget that our analyst panned him and felt he belonged in Round 3 for value, you need to trade down. Repeating, every other team could be wrong about their Eval, every draft analyst, every scout. The Raiders could be the evaluation geniuses. It doesn’t matter. Trade down 15 picks. 20 picks. Collect some value. And if he is not there, take someone else. NO ONE HAS A MONOPOLY ON THE FORETELLING OF THE FUTURE. Even the great Patriots have stunk up the joint recently in the draft. Respect what you do not know. Leatherwood was overdrafted. As we like to explain, imagine taking Tom Brady in Round 1 because you KNEW he was going to be a Hall of Fame QB. No you did not. And he went Round 6. So cool your jets, chill, wait and get these players later. The last time we had this discussion about Overdrafting, it was Daniel Jones at 1.06. How does that look now? They can have great careers. Most do not. And those that do have good careers could easily have been taken later or missed entirely because someone else took them. This happens all the time in the draft. Oh-I wanted him-he goes somewhere else-and… is unmemorable. Quit pining. And do what is correct.

4 great Tackle prospects last year. The Giants take the first one at 1.04. The Bucs take the last one at 1.13. Was there that much difference in the right to choose? Trade down. Trade down to 1.08 for a box of cracker jacks. Becton, Wills and Wirfs all had terrific seasons. Stop thinking you have all the answers.

UndergroundNYG on Toney: “reminds me of Percy Harvin. Both out of Florida and both injury prone.” Glenn is not forecasting Toney to bust. He is just pointing out that Toney is not without risk. Which is a reminder of how inexact a science the Draft is. The only thing exact about it is

  1. understanding value
  2. respecting the value in each decision
  3. knowing what you do NOT know
  4. a series of above average decisions
  5. a lot more than half of NFL GMs make bad decisions
  6. respect positional value
  7. it is not about finding good players, it is about finding good players where they can be found
  8. what works now will not work in 5-10 years from now
  9. the CBA is an integral part of determining where to find value
  10. everyone has risk in their decisions; some just pay too much to obtain certainty
  11. not confusing one single player’s outcome with whether or not a good decision was made

Onto Round 2. Joe Judge remarked that we better check Dave Gettleman for concussion protocol because we’re not sure about all his faculties after trading DOWN again! For dropping 8 spots in R2 the Giants collected Miami’s Round 3 pick in 2022.

So let’s get the abacus out here. The NY Giants have collected R1 R3 R4 in 2022. That’s practically an ENTIRE NEW DRAFT CLASS that you don’t see from “names” here in 2021. Even if you are making slightly below average picks, you are feasting on so much massive quantity that your draft haul is bound to be well above average. We won’t see the impact of this until 2-4 years from now. But this is how you sustain competitiveness. When you consider the humor in Judge’s remarks, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that these trades are being pushed for or at the very least strongly supported by the 2nd year Head Coach. Consider this a part of the successful DNA from New England.

Okay, Azeez Ojulari time. Siloed in a restaurant on Friday evening, I remarked on a text thread after the Giants traded down in R2 from 2.42 to 2.50: “Did Ojulari go? He’s falling and maybe giants say let’s get paid for that risk.” And while I frankly wanted C Creed Humphrey to leverage the toys as my first choice (he went ~13 picks later to KC), the pick of Ojulari was TREMENDOUS. Just read the previous post. We had both Humphrey and Ojulari as value at the end of Round 1. So for the Giants to collect a 2022 R3 pick for the trouble of taking on Ojulari’s ACL risk from High School, bring it. This is the exact opposite of reaching. This is getting paid to take on risk. This is precisely how you draft. I don’t give two f***s if Ojulari gets injured again and is out football. This is a well above average draft decision that gives the Defense a dimension it’s been lacking for MANY years. Why is it good risk? Because of where you took him. Ojulari at 1.11? No. Ojulari at 2.50? Yes! Leonard Williams was overpaid. But sit back and watch the havoc that double teamed Dexter Lawrence, LW, and Ojulari are able to do now. Ojulari leverages Williams and Lawrence the way Humphrey would have leveraged the Offensive weapons. And heaven forbid if the Giants can get some health/production out of Carter too (not even counting on that), and this Defense is going to be off the charts. Remember, it was very good last year without a pass rush (LW’s were good production from the interior but they were generally secondary sacks). Add the missing piece of EDGE Ojulari and it’s going to be night and day. Then consider an already strong secondary got stronger w Adoree Jackson and the addition of “tackling” CB Aaron Robinson in R3. This Defense could be special. DC Patrick Graham had to scheme without a true pass rusher. The impact of Azeez Ojulari is going to be very significant. He was one of the best pass rushers out of this class, and he fits into the Giants’ 3-4 perfectly. It’s a calculated risk, but the rewards are huge if he maintains health.

In Round 3 the Giants gave up the R5 pick from Chicago to move 5 spots up for Robinson. I preferred G Wyatt Davis, harping on the need to help OL. The Giants have more confidence in their young OL than I do. This is the business the Giants have chosen. The argument for Robinson is the need for slot CB. Gettleman admittedly was eyeing help for OL (if we take him at his word). Assuming that is true, they were eyeing C Dickerson or T Jenkins and traded down the 2.42 after one or both went. My view is that Guard helps leverage the toys better than the impact of CB in Round 3. But I won’t be a downer on this draft because 2022 R1 R3 R4 booty PLUS EDGE OJULARI IS A GREAT DRAFT. If we pull a judo move and say the Giants got Ojulari at 1.20 and Toney at 2.50, we have to be good there. I know this won’t happen, but I’d nuke the rest of the draft w OL and see if we can get something that sticks. Hey, G David Diehl was a R5 gem, so you never know.