The Case for More Ties

After every tie, the conversation is the same. How does professional football still have ties? Why is the NFL the only level of football to allow such an anti-American concept in the game? Nobody likes ties, get them out of the game. Overtime until someone wins!

Look, I get it. Coaches don’t like ties. Players don’t like ties. Fans loath ties. We all don’t like ties. Football is a game of winners and losers and there isn’t supposed to be an in-between. Despite this, The NFL needs to eliminate overtime (regular season only) and embrace ties, or at least learn to deal with them. Let’s look at why.

Ryan Santoso misses a 48-yard field goal in OT of the Lions 16-16 tie against the Steelers in Pittsburgh.
Ryan Santoso misses a 48-yard field goal in OT of the Lions 16-16 tie against the Steelers in Pittsburgh.

College football implemented overtime in 1996, eliminating ties. Since then, there has been a myriad of attempted changes. Teams had to start going for a two-point conversion after a touchdown in the 3rd overtime. Starting in 2021, that became the second overtime while, starting in the third overtime, teams had to then alternate two-point tries to determine the winner.

This is a poor, and ultimately arbitrary, way to decide who is victorious.

Teams who excel in short-yardage situations are given an advantage in these situations while spread passing offenses are hindered. Ideas for field goal competitions have been proposed. This presents another arbitrary advantage-disadvantage situation. No matter the method, anything short of playing more, standard rules football, will not determine who the better team is, but rather who benefitted more from gimmicky rules.

Arizona kicker Chandler Catanzaro misses a field goal in overtime of the Cardinals 6-6 tie with the Seahawks in Glendale in 2016.

The NFL has portrayed itself as being pro-player safety-driven since the reports of widespread CTE became national news. Many rules have been changed to lessen the chances of injury to the players. These include a ban on lowering the helmet to initiate contact, protections for defenseless players, and shortening the overtime period from 15 to 10 minutes in 2017.

With each game that goes to overtime, players on the field are required to sacrifice their bodies for an additional 10 potential minutes of game time, on top of the 60 minutes of punishing hits they had already endured. If a primary goal of the NFL is player safety, not extending a game should be a focus.

Kyler Murray throws a pass during the Cardinals 27-27 tie against the Lions in 2019.

1,174 regular-season games have been played from the 2017 NFL season through Week 10 of the 2021 season. Of those 1,174, just 62 have reached the end of regulation with the score tied. Five of those games resulted in a tie. That’s less than 12 overtime games each year.

The Colts attempt a 4th and 4 in their 37-34 overtime loss against the Texans in Indianapolis in 2018.

There are other tie-limiting factors to consider as well. In 2018, Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich famously left his offense on the field to attempt a 4th and 4 from their own 43 yard line in overtime against the Houston Texans. With just 27 seconds left in the extra period, the attempt failed. The Texans won on a field goal as time expired. Reich said after the game: “We’re not playing to tie. We’re going for it 10 times out of 10.” While this was more of an exception than the rule, it was not an isolated incident.

Later that season, then Los Angeles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn attempted a 2-point conversion with four seconds left in regulation. Down one point in Kansas City to the Chiefs, Lynn did not want to take the risk of giving the ball to Patrick Mahomes in overtime. That fear had quality reasoning behind it.

Zane Gonzalez reacts to missing an overtime field goal against the Steelers in Cleveland in 2018. The game would finish tied 21-21.
Zane Gonzalez reacts to missing an overtime field goal against the Steelers in Cleveland in 2018. The game would finish tied 21-21.

Winning the coin toss is random and unpredictable. With each coin flip, the away team has a 50/50 chance of guessing correctly and, because of this, winning a game in overtime is far from random. Since 2017, teams that won the overtime coin toss are 35-22-5 (.605). Football is a game of inches. A 20 percentage point swing is monstrous and outside the bounds of standard variance. In 2021 alone, coin toss winners are 9-4-1. Overtime doesn’t decide who was the better team, it decides which was luckier.

Carson Wentz and Joe Burrow after the Bengals and Eagles tied 23-23 in Philadelphia in 2020.
Carson Wentz and Joe Burrow after the Bengals and Eagles tied 23-23 in Philadelphia in 2020.

Entering the final week of the regular season, playoff-clinching scenarios articles are in abundance. Every possible outcome is accounted for including which tiebreakers would be in play. Sporadic ties eliminate the need for those tiebreakers. The 2017 Buffalo Bills punched their postseason ticket on a tiebreaker with the Baltimore Ravens. Had those Bills tied with the Colts in an overtime game they won earlier that season (after winning the overtime coin-toss), and the Ravens tied with the Chicago Bears in a game they lost in overtime (Chicago won the overtime coin-toss) a more deserving Ravens team would have been in the playoffs.

Lamar Jackson slams the ball to the grass after being sacked during the Ravens 22-10 loss in Miami.

In Week 9, 2021, The Ravens hosted the Minnesota Vikings. The game lasted 69 minutes, 44 seconds. The Ravens won on a Justin Tucker field goal (after winning the coin toss), beating the Vikings 34-31. Just four short days later, that same Ravens team flew to Miami to take on the lowly 2-7 Dolphins on Thursday Night Football. Hard Rock Stadium was humid, hot, and mucky. Favored by 8.5 points, Baltimore came out flat, eventually losing 22-10 in a game the score did no justice. Thursday Nights are extremely hard on NFL players’ bodies (a case for eliminating those another time). Adding extra wear and tear only worsens the turnaround.

Daniel Carlson misses an overtime field goal as time expires in Green Bay in 2018. The Packers and Vikings tie 29-29.
Daniel Carlson misses an overtime field goal as time expires in Green Bay in 2018. The Packers and Vikings tie 29-29.

Not every game deserves a winner and a loser. If, after 60 minutes of game action two teams are even, so be it. Players should not have to sacrifice their bodies for additional game minutes without compensation. A loss should not be assigned to a team because the NFL arbitrarily extended their game. A team should not win because they won a 50-50 luck-based proposition. Other sports have recognized this. MLS awards three points for a win and one for a draw. The NHL rewards an overtime loss with one point. MLS plays twice the amount of games as the NFL while the NHL plays nearly five times as many. With NFL teams playing 17 games, and the noted randomness of overtime, too much is at stake to leave even one game riding on chance.

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Over Reaction Sunday, Browns Edition

What went wrong in New England and where the Browns go from here.

Whew. Alright Browns fans, take another deep breath. It is needed.

Now that a few days have passed to calm down, it’s time to look at what is real, what is an aberration, and what should be expected going forward this season. First off, let’s dive back into the 45-7 drubbing New England gave Cleveland.

A Complete Team Beatdown

Since returning in 1999, the Browns have suffered their fair share of blowout losses. Whether it be the opening 43-0 loss to the Steelers in 1999, the 41-0 Christmas Eve loss to the Steelers in 2005, the 31-0 loss to the Steelers in 2008, the 30-0 loss to the Bengals in 2014, the 38-7 loss to the Steelers last ye…yeah, you probably get it. Anyway, the expansion-Browns have lost big many times. The loss to the Patriots last Sunday has a case for being not just one of, but the worst since the franchise’s rebirth. Cleveland’s DVOA was -114 percent, one of the worst single-game performances by any team this season. They were out-coached, out-played, and out-classed.

Lack of Defense

If the pitchforks weren’t out in Cleveland for Joe Woods job, they are now. The Browns defense was thoroughly manhandled in every aspect. The Patriots offense largely neutralized the Browns front seven. Myles Garrett played well. It just didn’t matter. Every pass play, Garrett was chipped or double-teamed while Jones got the ball out quickly. When the Patriots ran, they simply ran to whatever side #95 wasn’t on. The rest of the defensive line was almost a non-factor. The Patriots offensive line mauled Cleveland opening massive lanes for their backs to run through. Three starters on the offensive line had PFF run-blocking grades over 80. Rhamondre Stevenson finished runs carrying Browns defenders. Tackling was atrocious across the board.

As for coverage, there was no coverage. Patriot receivers were schemed open and ran free. Woods D had no answers and made no adjustments. Greg Newsome looked like a rookie, Denzel Ward was far from his elite self, John Johnson fell back to earth after a good two-game stretch, Ronnie Harrison was his typical liability-in-coverage self, and Troy Hill is likely still on the turf after a piss-poor tackling attempt on the Jacoby Meyers Touchdown. Myles put it best in his post-game comments: “We never had a chance just because we didn’t make any adjustments on the sideline or when we had time to.” Yikes.

Offensive Offense

Ask anyone on the Cleveland coaching staff and they will all tell you the same thing: the Browns want to run the ball and play-action pass off of it. You wouldn’t guess that if you watched this team for the first time this weekend. Baker Mayfield dropped back 23 times. Only two of those dropbacks were off play-action and both were on the first drive. Nearly every quarterback benefits from play-action and few benefit as much as Mayfield does. Mayfield has a 75 passing grade off play-action and a 67 grade on straight dropbacks this season. Obviously, teams will play-action pass less in obvious passing situations, but that does not excuse an outright abandonment of it. Expect a drastic change next week vs Detroit.

The Browns offensive identity is based around their offensive line. Outside of the first drive, the Patriots defensive line dominated. Wyatt Teller looked like a replacement guard and Jedrick Wills looked dreadful, again. Blake Hance is not a starter in this league and played like it. Jack Conklin cannot return soon enough. On a positive note, Joel Bitonio was the only Browns offensive player who graded higher than a 73 (80.0). The Browns cannot be a dominant run team if they cannot block.

Speaking of the run game, D’ernest Johnson ran efficiently. As the blocking wilted with each quarter and holes closed up, Johnson finished runs well and showed patience. There just wasn’t anything to be had in yardage production.


This game was one of the worst, if not the worst, games of Mayfield’s career. A sizeable portion of the blame lies squarely at Baker’s feet. Mayfield consistently missed receivers and made poor decisions. Browns receivers did him few favors. The preseason glean of Donovan Peoples-Jones has completely worn off. DPJ struggles to get any separation from corners. His biggest plays are coverage busts (ex. at Titans 2020, last week at Bengals). That isn’t sustainable. The clock is quickly running out on his chances to be a starting receiver. David Njoku dropped a sure touchdown that nearly cost the Browns their only points of the day.

The Turning Point

Mayfield’s interception early in the second quarter was a dreadful decision. Mayfield cannot throw that ball. However, the decision isn’t entirely Mayfield’s fault. Stefanski called a flood passing concept. This concept attacks cover-3. Njoku is the slot receiver running a deep out while Peoples-Jones is out wide running a go route.

The idea is that the outside receiver clears out the corner dropping to the deep zone, allowing for the slot receiver, the primary read, to find a hole in the zone 7-10 yards downfield near the sideline. Jalen Mills jams DPJ off the line, causing him to be too shallow when the ball is supposed to come out. Njoku runs a terrible route, rounding his break and allowing Kyle Duggar to jump the route. Njoku is taken out of the play by Mills, the corner who was supposed to have been cleared from the zone by DPJ. Duggar easily intercepts the pass and returns it from a touchdown.

The Browns passing offense lives off timing. On that play, the Patriots defense throws off the timing immediately. Mayfield has to know better than to throw that ball while Njoku and Peoples-Jones need to run better routes. That play was the epitome of the Browns entire game.

The Sky Isn’t Falling

Browns fans may need the Aaron Rodgers treatment after this game.


in 2020, everything bounced right for Cleveland. They won close games and stayed mostly healthy, overachieving relative to their 11-5 record. The variance that went their way last season isn’t this season. This is to be expected, to a degree. They have dropped a few close games this year and are suffering from injuries, especially on the offensive line. Because of this, their offense has been less efficient in the run game. All signs pointed towards this being a 9-10 win (of 17 games) this season. at 5-5, they remain on pace for that. The Patriots loss can be chalked up to a combination of a bad matchup and poor play.

While the Browns maintain the status quo, pencil them in for a couple of blowouts per year. Last year was Pittsburgh and Baltimore. This year is Arizona and New England. The blueprint is the same. Build a quick lead, put Cleveland in a pass-first situation, and wait for Mayfield and Co to struggle. They cannot play from behind. This doesn’t mean this team cannot win. building a quick lead on them is not easy. Every team has a weakness. The Browns are no exception.

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Should the Rams Move On From Johnny Hekker?

There may be no position in American football that receives less fanfare than that of a punter. I’d like to take a moment to shine some light on one of them: Johnny Hekker. A veteran punter for the Los Angeles Rams out of Oregon State and former high school quarterback for Bothell High School of the greater Seattle metropolitan area, Hekker went undrafted in 2012 before signing with the then St. Louis Rams.

That may have been the best signing of the 2012 class for rookie general manager Les Snead.

Simply put, Hekker is NFL punting royalty. The man has four All-Pros to his name and is a member of the 2010 NFL all-decade team.

Many fans loath Super Bowl LIII (53) for its lack of scoring but, while the Rams wilted, Hekker shined. That night, Hekker punted nine times. Two punts were returned for a total of two yards. His net was 46.1 yards. Five punts were downed inside the 20 with zero touchbacks. He set a Super Bowl record with a 65-yard punt. Hekker finished his 2018 season with a very solid outing. That game, however, would be the start of a turn in his career.


Pro Football Focus (PFF) punting data is available dating back to 2013, Hekker’s second season. In that time, there are some noticeable trends. For example, median punting grades among qualified punters were on a slight downward trend from 2013-2018 but have risen in each of the past two seasons.

Alternatively, top five punting grade averages saw steep declines from 2013-2018 with marginal upwards trends since 2019.

With these trends in mind, we can observe Hekker’s grades dating back to his second season.

Johnny Hekker was ranked as a top-five punter by PFF in 2013-2016 and 2018 (6th in 2017). Considering that average punting grades have decreased among the top five punters over that time frame, a reasonable expectation would be to expect his grades to decline, as they have. The decline relative to his peers, however, tells a more accurate story. Hekker plummeted from the second-ranked punter in 2018 to the 12th in 2019. He continued that free fall into 2020, finishing as the 21st ranked punter. To better understand why we need to examine both seasons.


2019 in isolation can largely be chalked up as a down season. Nearly all NFL players will have a similar experience if they play for an extended period of time. When compared with 2020, a troubling picture begins to form.

Including the playoffs, Hekker punted in 17 games in 2020. His first eight games (Weeks 1-10) resemble improvement from 2019 with a grade of 72 through Week 10 and the 10th ranked punter among those qualified. Beginning in Week 11 in Tampa, his numbers fall off a cliff. From Week 11 through the divisional playoff, Hekker’s grade sat at 50.9, second-worst among qualifying punters over the same period. What changed?


No stand-alone stat can tell a full story. This is especially true of punting. A 31-yard punt downed at the 19 yard-line has a better net outcome than a 50-yard punt that results in a touchback. Average yards per punt does not factor in the outkicking of coverage or whether or not a punt is returnable. Five seconds of hangtime is impressive out-of-context, but useless if the ball only goes 30 yards unless the offense happens to be punting from inside their opponent’s territory.

Context in punting data may be more important than for any other position in football. Over Hekker’s first eight games, his percentage of returned punts was 25 percent and his average hangtime sat at 4.41 seconds. Over the final nine, both numbers went in opposite directions. His return percentage skyrocketed to 44.2 percent and average hangtime dropped to 4.25 seconds. This is causation, not just correlation. The sample sizes were relatively similar: 36 punts through Week 10 and 43 punts after.

The Rams never placed Hekker on the injury report through the 2020 season. While NFL teams are not immune to misreporting injuries (ahem Seattle), there’s no written evidence he was hurt.

To continue our journey, we need to dive into the tape. We will look at two games that I believe define Hekker’s 2020 season-best: Week 4 versus the New York Giants and the Wildcard playoff in Seattle against the Seahawks.


Punt 1

Hekker’s first punt is a 61-yard bomb that hangs in the air for almost 5 seconds. The coverage is slightly outkicked and leads to a return of 15 yards. A net of 46 yards, is a good, but not great, result for an open field punt.

Punt 2

His second punt of the day was another open field bomb of 58 yards, landing right near the New York goal line. The returner fakes a catch, spoofing the coverage team and enabling the ball to bounce into the endzone. This punt nets only 38 yards, but Hekker does his job.

Punt 3

The third punt is an open field 46-yarder that is returned for 9 yards, a 37-yard net. The ball hangs long enough for the coverage team to swarm the returner, but they fail to do so adequately. An extra two-tenths of a second of hangtime would make this a great punt, but Hekker handles his business while the gunners do not.

Punt 4

The fourth punt is yet another open field bomb of 60 yards. New York brings pressure, speeding up Hekker’s punting process. The ball is over kicked and sails out the back of the endzone for a net of 40 yards.

Punt 5

The fifth and final punt is a long, open field, 54-yarder that lands at the New York 14. This punt hangs for nearly 5 seconds but slightly out-kicks the coverage. That, combined with an experienced returner, leads to a 6-yard return and a 48-yard net. With every second precious for NY late in the game, the outcome is a net positive as the return bleeds a few extra seconds off the clock.


This performance is what Hekker’s fans and coaches have come to expect over his 9-year career. While the end results are not perfect, nearly every punt is a bomb that gives the coverage team an opportunity to do their job and flips the field for the Rams defense. The margins between an elite punt and a solid punt are razor-thin, and sometimes beyond the control of the punter. PFF awards Hekker with a grade of 69.1, a quality grade for a quality outing. Next, we’ll look at Hekker’s seven punt wildcard performance in Seattle.


Punt 1

His first punt is an open field 40-yarder that hits at the 20 and bonces laterally out-of-bounds. It is a short kick that nets 40 with the same end result as a touchback. Hekker isn’t rushed. The coverage has outrun the punt, often a sign of a poor kick. This punt was recorded as one of his two punts inside the 20.

Punt 2

The second punt is an example of why general punting stats alone do not accurately describe the quality of a kick. The ball travels at a low trajectory for 39 yards, hitting at the 20 and taking a few hops to the 10 where it is picked up and returned for 10 yards. Hekker outkicks his coverage due to a line drive punt. The returner originally wants to let the ball go, rather than run under it, but the bounce enables a return. This was the second of Hekker’s two punts inside the 20. Not good.

Punt 3

The third punt is an open field 44-yard boot from the Rams 7-yard line. In this instance, negating a return is paramount. Hekker skies the kick, the gunners create a triangle around the returner, and a fair catch is forced at the Seattle 49. The stats won’t show it, but this is an excellent punt in the context of the game.

Punt 4

The fourth punt is a well-kicked open field sky-ball that goes for 45 yards. The punt is placed near the sideline. While the punt is returned, this is largely due to a failure on the coverage team. The weak side gunner is blocked away from the returner and takes a bad angle, approaching him from the side. The strong side gunner is blocked to the ground out of the play, nowhere to be found. The punt nets 37 yards, but Hekker has done his job.

Punt 5

Hekker’s fifth punt is an ugly one. Officially, it is a 46-yard open field punt that bounces into the sideline. The ball hits down at the Seattle 44, having traveled just 37 yards before taking a Rams bounce to the 35. This is a dreadful open field punt that is salvaged only by a bounce out-of-bounds. Had the ball bounced in any other direction, either the stats would show a very short punt, or there would have been a return. This is Hekker’s worst punt of the day.

Punt 6

The sixth punt is another ugly open fielder. The ball hits at the Seattle 46, just 34 yards before taking a Rams roll to the Seattle 31 for an additional 15 yards. The returner backs off because the kick is short, letting it bounce. This time, the coverage team is awaiting, and the returner opts to not take it on the bounce. Hekker is bailed out by his coverage team and another lucky bounce.

Punt 7

The seventh and final Hekker punt of the game is another poor open field punt. The ball lands at the Seattle 34 having traveled 37 yards. His process is rushed as the personal protector is nearly blocked into the punt. The kick has enough hangtime for the coverage to get around it, but the ball bounces towards the Seattle endzone. It is picked up by the returner at the 27 and take to the Seattle 35 where the ball is fumbled and recovered by the Rams. The stat sheet records a 44-yard punt with a 35-yard net.


Joe buck sums up Hekker’s performance in the wildcard round well with his call on the seventh punt: “Another ugly punt. Hekker has really not hit many good ones (today).” While a few were rushed processes, the majority were just bad balls. Hekker lacked command on the ball that he showed early in his career and even in the first half of 2020.


Above all else, Hekker lacked any consistency over the final nine games of 2020. His booming leg was still there, evidenced by multiple 60 plus yard bombs over that time span. Unlike previous seasons, there were far more short, ugly punts in between them.


This is a question the Rams are asking as well, and the answer should come following the preseason. This offseason, Los Angeles signed veteran punter Corey Bojorquez, formerly of the Bills, to compete with Hekker. From 2013-2020, STL/LA had never brought in veteran competition with regular-season experience at the punter position. Should Hekker not improve this preseason from his dismal finish to 2020, he will likely be trying to right the ship in another uniform.

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