Here’s an uncontroversial opinion for someone as heavily invested in “nerdy” hobbies as I am: I don’t much care for American football. Where I differ is in the amount of it I’ve watched in comparison to most people with similar “geeky” dispositions. I worked at what was ostensibly a sports bar for four years, in the suburbs of Dallas, a very, very football-heavy town. I feel pretty comfortable saying that I’ve watched a majority of NFL games for at least the last three years.
I certainly don’t think football is per se bad, mostly just boring. A common phrase I hear said is “football is a game of inches” which is between our co-opting of the word “football” and use of the imperial units, maybe one of the most American expressions possible. This phrase is supposed to speak to football’s very strategic nature, but for me it just highlights how slow the game is. The game is typically played in ten to fifteen second bouts, before the whistle’s blown, everyone just sorta stops and putzes around, and maybe you see an advertisement for Carl’s Jr. or something. Most plays, to me, look like a lot of dudes just sort of crouching, before most of them just slap into each other, and maybe the guy with the ball moves forward six feet, maybe he throws the ball, and maybe he just falls down.
With this, let’s call it, lukewarm opinion of football, it’s easy to find it surprising that I really like Blitz: The League II. In fact, not counting motorsports or extreme sports, Blitz is the only sports game I own. So, what does this game do to the formula of American football that changes it from a snoozefest to a staple on my shelf to my eyes? Simple. Blitz makes football dumb.
It does this in a lot of fairly superficial ways: you can beat the hell out of opposing players, leading to some ridiculous, Mortal Kombat style X-ray views of bones being broken and nuts being smashed, and there’s also a full subsystem for exorbitant touchdown dances, my personal favorite involving pretending to poop out the football. When it comes to mechanics, though, Blitz: The League II makes one change that radically changes the game, and that’s thirty yard downs.
Let me back up here. In American football, play is measured in terms of downs, with each down basically being a unit of play. A team, when on offense, gets four downs, or basically four plays, to attempt to move the ball 10 yards. If they do, they are awarded another four downs to attempt to move the ball 10 yards. Either the ball ends up making it all the way to the end zone, or a team will fail to move the ball 10 yards in four downs, causing possession to switch. I realize that my American readers are probably scoffing at the idea of me explaining football, but between international readers and just, like, nerds, I figured it was worth the explanation.
In Blitz: The League II‘s rendition of football, however, this rule is changed slightly. Instead of having to advance 10 yards in four downs, a team in Blitz needs to advance thirty, or a fourth of the field. This does a massive amount towards making the game faster-paced, more aggressive, and host to more ridiculous stunt plays.
You see, when you have four downs to move a measly ten yards, you can kind of afford to have small gains with every play. Moving two and a half yards a play is not terribly difficult, but it’s not terribly exciting either. If we presume an average human running speed of about 10 mph (which is admittedly a pretty rough ballpark), an average person can run two and a half yards in about half a second unopposed. Factoring in acceleration time, as well as taking non-straight routes due to opposing players, we’re still talking maybe a couple of seconds to accomplish the distance. That means that, on average, if you’re running the ball, a successful play only needs to run a couple of seconds. When you consider that, between downs, players have to reconfigure and maybe huddle up to devise and disseminate a strategy, these short bursts of action end up kind of boring. They’re too fast for you to really build up excitement, and what excitement you do build up fizzles out in the long downtime.
When you have to move seven and a half yards a down, however, things get a smidge more interesting. We’re now sitting at about a second and a half for an average human to run that in an optimal line, 300% the length of regulation football. Moreover, we have to consider a change in strategy. According to the stats given by TeamRankings, literally every single NFL team averaged less than 7.5 yards per play last season, and in fact, every season for the last 10 years. This means that all of your strategies that form the meat and potatoes of your team’s play need to be thrown out the window.
So, what is the strategic status quo that we’re shaking up? Well, let’s look at the statistics. Last season, NFL teams passed the ball for between 50% and 65% of plays, and those passes yielded between 5.5 to 8.9 yards on average, depending on the team. Again depending on the team, these passes were successful between about 54% to 70% of the time. Actually, let’s plot pass completion percentages and average yards per pass, shall we?
We can see a positive correlation that teams complete more passes get more yards per pass, which is good! Let’s look at passing play percentage versus pass completion percentage now.
There is way weaker a correlation there, with results pretty much being all over the place. What this means, with a rough statistical analysis, is that in football, passing a lot doesn’t necessary correlate to completing a lot of passes, but completing a lot of passes does correlate to a large amount of gain from those passes. In layman’s terms, I have statistical support for the anecdotally obvious: passing is a high risk, high reward play.
What the hell does this have to do with anything? Why did I start talking about passing so much all of a sudden? Well, anecdotally, passing is probably the most interesting thing that can happen in a single play. It’s harder skillwise to throw a ball successfully and then for someone else to catch it successfully than it is to just sort of hold a ball (while both are pretty hard in an NFL setting), making it a bit more of a technical feat to watch. Passing the ball puts it in the air, making it a bit more visible than if it’s in a big mob of dudes. Passing opens up potential for interceptions, which tend to be big, dramatic moments in the game. The act of passing also just creates anticipation, as the crowd watches the ball go through the air, watches a player line up to catch it and the defense move to counter, and everyone naturally tries to complete the situation in their head before it happens.
What does this have to do with Blitz: The League II. Well, sparing you another graph, you can look here and see that, generally speaking, running the ball yields fewer yards than passing it. This is fine in a ten-yard down game, you can see that every team on average scores more yards per run than the two and a half they “need” to. However, in a thirty-yard down game like Blitz, these numbers don’t cut it. All of this data basically exists to prove something that your average football player knew the second they read the headline: in a thirty-yard down game, you have to pass more. More passing means more anticipation, more clarity, and more big plays. All things that I find interesting. And, for that, thirty yard downs in Blitz: The League II are a Good Idea.