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It seems in the NFL, rules were made to be broken

In today’s NFL, if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.

Atlanta Falcons v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

It’s only breaking the law if you get caught. This statement is most often made by someone who just got away with something. I strive everyday to be an upstanding, law abiding citizen. I believe the majority of individuals try to live within the parameters of the law, because a society without laws would be utter chaos. With a survival-of-the-fittest credo, society most definitely would suffer the consequences. We might not always agree with the rules, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have merit. Civilization depends on the law.

That being said, if we’re being honest, how many of us law-abiding citizens actually break the law every day? Or perhaps we skate along the boundaries of the rules, oftentimes dipping a toe into the forbidden water before quickly pulling it back to safety. I for one readily admit that I’ve been guilty of such behavior.

Let me explain. I routinely set my cruise control five miles an hour over the posted speed limit because I know the cops usually won’t pull a vehicle over for that level of infraction. I’m knowingly breaking the law and, truthfully, without a shred of remorse. I think most of us can admit to pushing the boundaries of the law at some point in our lives.

True story — one day I was traveling home from work on a local interstate highway when I noticed a vehicle closing in behind me rather rapidly. My mind immediately presumed cop car, seeing how I was driving over the speed limit, as I’ve already admitted. Thankfully, the vehicle wasn’t a cop car, but I had to chuckle when I recognized the driver of the vehicle as it went flying by. It was the pastor of a local church who was also a friend of mine. It just so happened that he was a guest speaker at our church a couple of weeks later. I approached him after the service and, with a big smile on my face, asked him if he felt it was a sin to break the law. He smiled back slightly confused and said, “What?” I explained I was just jerking his chain and mentioned how he had blown my doors off a couple weeks back. He just laughed and said, “Oh, I remember that day. I was late for Wednesday night service.”

We justify our behavior when the end justifies the means. The world of sports is no different. Individuals have been trying to get a leg up on the competition since sports began. Whether it’s an aging pitcher taking the mound with a file in his pocket or Vaseline under the bill of his cap, a basketball player mastering his flop technique or overacting on a play trying to draw a foul, or a soccer player....just don’t get me started about that insanity, participants in all sports have looked for ways to level the playing field. Some perfectly legal, others not so much.

The NFL is no different. Actually the league’s most successful franchise over the past two decades, the New England Patriots, are notorious for pushing the boundaries of the system, whether it be Spygate, drones, deflated footballs, or childishly vague injury reports. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, you can’t argue with the results. It’s not the only reason for their success, but it’s most definitely one of the reasons.

The league is besieged at the moment with a plethora of new rules and the confusion associated with the enforcement of these rules. Some teams have been slow to adjust and have wasted their energy screaming in protest or banging their head against the proverbial wall, while the more successful franchises have looked for ways to exploit said rules. Two plays immediately come to mind, one on offense and one on defense.

First is the ‘rub play’ on offense. This basically illegal maneuver occurs when a legal receiver ‘accidentally’ collides with a defender before the ball is in the air, purposely trying to create a successful passing play down the field for another suddenly open receiver. If executed properly, it’s nearly impossible to imply intent and a flag is seldom thrown. This play is basically impossible to defend and all of the most successful offensive units in the game today are utilizing some form of this play. I’ve been playing close attention to the aforementioned Patriots, the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Los Angeles Rams this season, and they excel with this pick-play. Each team possesses a offensive mastermind capable of creating opportunities to utilize it and smart enough to teach their players how to execute it without getting flagged. I was going to suggest the Steelers try to utilize this play, but I changed my mind after writing the sentence. We can’t even fair-catch a punt without getting a holding penalty. Trust me, I wish I was joking.

The second area I feel the Steelers are failing to capitalize on lies in the techniques executed by their defensive backs. Offensive creativity is at an all-time high around the NFL. Add in the new rule changes implemented over the last few years and modern defenses are faced with a daunting task to say the least.

Modern offenses have evolved to the point it’s almost a game of pitch-and-catch between the QB and his receivers. Somewhere on the field there’s an open receiver or a glaring mismatch. It’s the QB’s job to identify these opportunities and deliver the ball accurately and on time. As it’s getting harder to disguise pre-snap schemes from a base defense, most successful defenses are focusing on disrupting the timing between the QB and the receivers. There really are no dominant defenses in the league anymore. Defenses are now measured by turnovers, splash plays, and limiting points scored against. Even a defense stacked with talented players like the Rams will regularly surrender more than 400 yards a game in this day and age. So how do some defenses achieve success in today’s NFL. Quite simply, they cheat.

Actually they bend the rules, utilizing excellent technique and hand placement. They immediately jam the receivers at the line, when possible, to disrupt the timing of the play. Now the big difference between the Steelers and a successful secondary like the Jaguars is what happens next. If the Jaguars’ DB misses the jam and the receiver gets a clean release, the DB will immediately grab the receiver before he gains separation. This might be a wrist grab, a jersey pull, or a hand on the hip. This is done ever-so-subtly to avoid drawing a flag, but better to draw a 5-yard penalty than give up a long touchdown pass. If the technique was successful and coverage has been re-established, the DB will then attempt to maintain contact with the receiver throughout the route, utilizing a grab here or a pull there. Remember, it's not a penalty if you don't get caught. Many times this technique will allow the defender to peek into the backfield to see how the play is developing behind him. The Steelers’ defensive backs are woefully behind the times when it comes to utilizing this technique. Joe Haden is the only DB that I can recall executing it properly.

I want the Steelers to win the right way, not by any means possible. But sometimes you have to roll with the changes.