By Steve Silverman
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The NFL has been a copycat league for a long time. When one team finds success with a particular way of doing business, the rest of the league takes notice and tends to follow.
In recent years, teams like the New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots decided that the only thing that mattered when it came to winning games was passing the ball downfield and lighting up the scoreboard.
The running game and defense? Those concepts were out of the past and didn’t matter. That idea reached its height in 2011 when all three of those teams had brilliant regular seasons and won their divisions with ease. However, none of them won the Super Bowl. The Giants beat both of them that year and won the Super Bowl.
Still, even though the Giants found their running game that postseason and played a stiff brand of defense during the postseason, most teams tried to emulate the Saints, Packers and Patriots. A team like the Chicago Bears, that had long based their game plan on punishing opponents with a rock-ribbed defense and a gut-pounding running game, decided to modernize.
By trading for a strong-armed quarterback in Jay Cutler and then bringing in a 21st-century coach like Marc Trestman, the Bears changed their philosophy 180 degrees. They want to attack for 60 minutes. The running game is merely a distraction. Defense has gone out the window.
The Bears, and other teams like them, thought they were following a trend. But two teams have emerged by ignoring that trend.
The Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers may hate each other, but they have become the two best organizations in the league. Both teams have strong, young quarterbacks, but neither team wants to be defined by the passing game.
Instead, the Seahawks and the 49ers want to play the same kind of game that Vince Lombardi, Chuck Noll and Bill Parcells had their teams play. They want to attack with the running game, punish opponents with their defense and take the ball away by forcing turnovers.
The mutual contempt between Seattle head coach Pete Carroll and San Francisco’s Jim Harbaugh has only pushed those teams harder. In trying to establish their dominance in the NFC West, both teams have pulled far ahead of the rest of the NFL pack.
In addition to rejecting the popular “pass-first” mantra dictated by the majority of the league’s coaches, Carroll and Harbaugh also push their teams hard in training camp.
Most coaches play their starters just a few series in the first preseason game. Then they play them into the second quarter of the next game and past halftime of the third game before sitting them out in the fourth. Carroll and Harbaugh, on the other hand, push their top players and are not afraid to let them compete in the “meaningless” preseason.
While today’s leaders live in fear of a season-ending injury like the one suffered by Sam Bradford Saturday night against the Cleveland Browns, Carroll and Harbaugh prepare their teams for the start of the regular season.
There’s a reason why the Seahawks went 7-1 in the first half of last season and the Niners went 6-2. Both teams hit hard in the preseason and were ready to play in Week 1.
While Harbaugh is a hard-edged leader who can be moody and difficult, he knows how to prepare a team. Carroll is both liked and respected by his players, and they play hard for him.
These two teams will almost certainly get off to the same kind of starts they got off to last year. In addition to being very talented, both are extremely physical and tough.
Neither coach subscribes to the game’s popular theories when it comes to game plans or preparation, and both are lapping the field.
Perhaps the old theories are the best.
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