Winning in the NFL is hard. Even the best teams in the NFL lose about 25% of their games in a given season. In a cutthroat league, teams must maximize the number of winnable games they have in a season.
Every team has scheduled losses. They come in a variety of forms such as short weeks, cross-country flights, rested opponents. The best teams in the NFL turn these scheduled losses into toss-up games. For years, teams such as the Patriots and Seahawks have “stolen” victories and ended up with better playoff seeding.
New England (when they had Tom Brady) and Seattle represent the top tier of the Golden Goose Theory: have a quarterback that gives you a chance to win in any game.
Layer 1: The Golden Goose
The quarterback is the Golden Goose. He is the franchise. When you have one of the best, you are almost guaranteed to make the playoffs. When your quarterback is that special, you often win games you are not supposed to. Sure, the Chiefs have a talented roster, but having the trump card of Patrick Mahomes contributes to several wins each season. One or two special plays in a season can be the difference between having to go on the road for three straight playoff games or getting a cushy bye week.
On a throw-to-throw basis, there often is not a sizable gap between the all-time greats and just good quarterbacks. When one factors in run plays and short passing plays, most quarterbacks generally follow the same formula: don’t screw up the easy stuff. In many games, a gameplan can lead to a victory. If, as an offense, you do not make mistakes, your opponent is vulnerable if they even make one. The best quarterbacks excel at capitalizing on these blunders, often scoring touchdowns before the opposing team can catch its breath.
Brady and Mahomes are fundamentally different quarterbacks, but they fulfill the role of the Golden Goose as well as any quarterbacks in NFL history do. Brady’s forte stems from the reduction of mistakes. He has metronomic consistency on a throw-to-throw basis, hitting receivers in stride and avoiding defenders. Mahomes, on the other hand, succeeds in losing situations. When most quarterbacks struggle, Mahomes is at his best. Third and long? Mahomes is sensational. Trailing by double-digits in a playoff game? Mahomes is magical.
The peak of quarterbacking is when these two methodologies collide. The likes of 2010 Brady, 2011 Aaron Rodgers, and current-day Mahomes have exceptionally few mistakes (that count) while making an otherworldly number of excellent plays. To fit the cliche, they do not lose games they are supposed to win and they win games they are supposed to lose.
Layer 2: Protecting the Golden Goose
Offensive lines are a unique group in sports. More than almost any position in sports, chemistry often beats out talent. The job of the offensive line is simple: protect the Golden Goose. Don’t let Mahomes or Brady or whoever get pressured. While NFL quarterbacks have exceptional levels of poise under pressure, even slight pressure helps the defense.
Tackles are the most important pieces of the offensive line, but that is often because the best pass rushers line up on the perimeter. In some circumstances, having star tackles is almost worthless when the interior of the offensive line is porous. Regardless, protect your Golden Goose and give your team the most chances to win games.
Good offensive lines, similar to quarterbacks, expand the window of opportunity for a team. Some facilitate the offense by letting the gameplan flow well. These teams do not allow quick pressure, and they allow the quarterback to make a play. Other lines may occasionally allow quick pressure, but they do a great job of maintaining the fort for as long as possible. Even against great defensive fronts, they neutralize the defense.
When an all-time caliber offensive line comes together, it is magical. These teams rarely allow quick pressures, but they are also fit to stand in for great lengths of time, allowing the quarterback to probe deep into the defense. There is not a true quantifiable measure of these effective offensive lines like there is with quarterbacks (big-time throws and turnover-worthy plays), but it pops on film.
Layer 3: Attacking Other Golden Geese
While many resources in a team go to protecting the quarterback or even acquiring the right one, some teams build up their weaponry to attack the other Golden Geese of the NFL. Defensive lines can almost be the quarterback of the defense in their control. Some defensive players are impactful on each snap. They are dominant against the run. They require double-teams and even triple-teams. These players, similar to Brady at quarterback, have an innate control over the game, and they do not let their team lose.
Other defensive players create splash plays. They force fumbles, pressure throws, and generate havoc. These players have a Mahomes-ian ability to win games from nothing. They are silent for three quarters, but they pop up with a critical sack or tackle for loss.
This section is mainly focused on the defensive line and accompanying blitzers, but many splash plays happen from linebackers and defensive backs, both in the run and the pass. They influence this layer, but their main layer is later.
The best defensive players marry down-to-down consistency with game-wrecking capabilities. J.J. Watt and Aaron Donald, even when they are not sacking the opposing quarterback, must be contained with double-teams and triple-teams. However, when they get free, it is game over for the offense. A swift swipe of the arm can stop a drive in its tracks.
Layer 4: Facilitating the Golden Goose
If a Golden Goose has no weapons to throw to, is he really a Golden Goose? Teams surround their Golden Geese with running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends to extract the golden essence. Brady had his Rob Gronkowski. John Elway had his Terrell Davis. Mahomes has Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. These players bring out the best in their quarterbacks, elevating them to peak Golden Goose status.
Layer 5: Stopping the Facilitators
They come in all shapes and sizes, but these defenders essentially prevent the Golden Goose’s help from having an impact on the game. They can be lockdown cornerbacks, hard-hitting safeties, thumping linebackers, or voluminous interior defensive linemen. While the cliche “great offense beats great defense” often holds, these defensive players thrive on winning one-on-one matchups and flipping the scales against the quarterback.
There is a near-infinite way to win games in the NFL. However, when you start to peel back the layers, you often find a Golden Goose pulling the strings, flipping losses to wins, and lifting the Lombardi at the end of the season.
Follow Ryan Potts on Twitter @MrSplashMan19
Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images