The NFL is a Copycat League
In 2012, Robert Griffin III, AKA RG3, took the league by storm. The Washington Redskins traded an armada of picks for the chance to draft him, and he didn’t disappoint. Thanks to former Falcons’ offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s schemes, Griffin threw for 3,200 yards and twenty touchdowns, while adding 815 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
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Griffin was the poster child for the new NFL quarterback: a big armed, dual threat who could run the ball for twenty yards at any moment. Along with Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson, the league would never be the same.
Except it was. Like other trends such as the Wildcat formation and “freezing the kicker,” it stopped working. Other teams were able to create way to stop them. Eventually, the advantage of running the quarterback was not worth the risk of a multimillion dollar asset getting injured. Who’d have thought?
Following The Trend
The Falcons’ division rival, the Carolina Panthers, have had success as trendsetters, but are now following a new trend: the Swiss Army knife player. Their first two draft picks, Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel, aren’t elite at their true positions.
The Panthers will shift both of them around, from running back and slot receiver to kick returns. It just so happens to be a strategy that was utilized by the New England Patriots.
Before falling off a cliff in 2016, the Panthers had made the playoffs three seasons in a row. There was no other team like them. Head coach Ron Rivera and general manager Dave Gettleman built a team that fit the strengths of star quarterback Cam Newton, a power run game, and good defense speed.
But after a down year, they blew it up. And unlike the Patriots who buy from the bargain bin at Pic ‘N’ Save, they are paying a premium for a shiny one from Tiffany & Co. Maybe it’ll work out for them, but very few of those types of players thrived outside of New England, let alone get paid well above market value.
Be The Trend
To annually compete in the NFL, while it is wise to know what your opponents are up to, you have to make your own trends. I think it’s safe to say that Falcons’ head coach Dan Quinn borrowed schematically from his former employer, the Seattle Seahawks, when piecing together his defense.
With Shanahan gone, it’s going to be important to continue to establish their own identity. Quinn appears to be doing a great job of it. Throw the ball around, get the lead, and use your elite defensive speed to get the quarterback.
They just need not to follow the Panthers’ lead.