NFL Teams Should Play Their 11 Fastest Players on Desperation Plays

Last night the Pittsburgh Steelers faced a situation that often afflicts NFL teams. With 12 seconds remaining they had the ball down by three, on their own 28-yard-line, and possessed no timeouts. Needing a miracle on what was likely to be the last play of the game, they resorted to the standard strategy of throwing a short pass and attempting to score a touchdown through a series of laterals. As invariably happens, the ball eventually ended up in the hands of a slow-footed, stone-handed offensive lineman, effectively ending the game.

So here’s my question: Why do teams play offensive lineman in these situations? Offensive teams are required to line up five players who are not eligible receivers, but there is no requirement that those players weigh 300 pounds. In desperation situations requiring 70+ yards there’s no real need for pass blocking because defenses concede the short pass. So why not put your 11 fastest players on the field? Find some combination of receivers, running backs, and tight ends, line five of them up as lineman, and then let them join the lateraling fun once the pass is thrown. The upside is that every player who might touch the ball is hard to tackle and has good hands. The downside is…well, there is none. Except that you’d have to do things differently than they’ve always been done by every team. I suppose it’s possible that defenses will adjust by rushing the passer and defending short routes more aggressively, but given the increased risk that seems unlikely. I assume that once one team stops playing linemen all the other teams will follow suit, and playing lineman on the final play will disappear faster than straight-ahead kicking.

To make a crazy leap and apply this to public policy, one reason I’m a policy optimist is that when it comes to health care, education, and energy there are bound to be easy improvements we’ve never considered because the old way of doing things is so institutionalized. As technology makes it easier for people’s voices to be heard, I think we’ll begin to uncover theses inefficiencies at a faster rate.



One Response to NFL Teams Should Play Their 11 Fastest Players on Desperation Plays

  1. Chris says:

    We call the game rugby when it’s played as you describe. It’s a terrific sport.

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