The Alliance of American Football made its debut on Saturday night, and for the most part, things went relatively smoothly. The general consensus after the two games finished was that the league had promise, but there were still some things to be smoothed out.
Personally, I was pretty impressed with the overall products, especially since things came together rather quickly. It was far from perfect, but it delivered enough intrigue for me to stick around for a while.
Here are five things I loved about the AAF’s debut, and three things I didn’t.
What I loved
One of the most publicized changes from the NFL was the AAF’s lack of kickoffs. Instead, teams simply start possession on the 25-yard line. For years, fans have worried about the removal of kickoffs and how it would eliminate one of the most exciting plays in football.
But the game was not noticeably different without kickoffs. If anything, it kept the pace of the game quicker and smoother. Sure, the kickoff has essentially been dead ever since the league made rules to incentivize touchbacks, but the last deathblow to the kickoff was a painless one. The NFL should take note and get rid of the kickoff ASAP.
BOOTH REVIEW AUDIO
This is the kind of transparency that football needs to regain trust in its officiating crews. Seeing and hearing exactly what refs are doing during a review not only gives us clarity into the process, but it allows us to get the answer to the review quicker.
The only downside to this is that the drama of the review is over. No waiting with bated breath as the on-field referee turns on his mic to give the decision. However, the tradeoff of actually knowing how they came to their ruling is well worth it.
LIVE ON-FIELD AUDIO
"Tell him to catch it this time."— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) February 10, 2019
Some sound advice from Steve Spurrier. pic.twitter.com/sNI09aadlW
On-field audio is one of football’s biggest treasures. I love hearing what players and coaches are saying during the game, because we so rarely get to actually hear it. And when we do, it’s been thoroughly vetted and filtered for our consumption well after the game is over. We only hear what they want us to hear.
But the AAF is giving us live audio. We hear coaches diss their players. We hear players scream in joy. Even cooler, we had this enlightening exchange where we heard the quarterback call out the play, had the announcer translate the football language, then see the play happen all in real time:
San Diego Fleet QB Mike Bercovici tagging “Dart” to a draw play. Former QB Trent Green, who played under Fleet head coach Mike Martz, explains Dart as a slant with no vertical push, thrown if the CB/Safety give the solo WR pre-snap cushion #AAF— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) February 10, 2019
Clips via @ftbeard_17 pic.twitter.com/NQmF5MhBFB
The only downside to this is that the broadcast crew was eager with the mute button. Obviously, mics are going to pick up a lot of live swearing, so large portions of the broadcast were awkwardly muted right in the middle of announcers talking.
Defensive line rules didn’t hurt the game
There was some concern that the AAF’s odd rules about blitzing may make the game a little too easy for offenses, but that certainly wasn’t the case on opening night.
Because it’s still to early for offensive lines to have cohesion, the league implemented the following rules:
There’s also a significant change in pass-rushing rules for defenses. Teams can rush only five players and can’t blitz players from the secondary. If you have five men on the line of scrimmage on defense, those are the only players who can rush.
That rule seems to heavily favor the offense, but three of the four teams combined for a total of one touchdown on Saturday night. And quarterbacks still had to deal with plenty of pressure:
Shaan Washington can BRING IT. pic.twitter.com/7VqYNk3DwD— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) February 10, 2019
This seems like a temporary rule given the league’s infancy, and it actually looks like the right move thus far. Offensive lines are struggling early, and they’d look downright disastrous had this rule not been in place.
Each game took around two hours and 30 minutes to complete, which is a good 45 minutes less than an average NFL game.
Thanks to the lack of kickoffs, the shortened halftime, the reduced play clock (40 seconds to 35) and limited commercial breaks, the play moved along at a brisk pace. It was almost like the entire game was being played in no-huddle. It took a second to adjust to the pace so you didn’t miss any plays, but I loved it.
Things I didn’t love
Phone app bugs
This is likely to get worked out, but the Alliance App, which they talked about incessantly on the broadcast, didn’t work all that well upon launch. The app promised some impressive functions, including live streaming (didn’t happen), the ability to play along and guess plays to earn points (didn’t work for me) and live animated diagrams of the play. The last aspect worked (on occasion) and was actually pretty dang cool:
Mind you, this was happening BEFORE the plays were being aired on broadcast. The technology to make this work is very impressive.
Still, based on how inconsistent everything was, it looks like they’re still a long ways from making everything actually functionable. For now, though, this is promising.
The “illegal defense” penalties were not properly explained
Illegal defense is a new set of rules that will take NFL fans some time to get used to. There are different facets to the rule (DBs can’t blitz, defense can only have a specific number of defenders on the line depending on the offensive formation), so it was naturally a bit confusing to watch.
Unfortunately, the television broadcasts didn’t do much to explain the rules, and it almost seemed as if they were avoiding talking about it, seeing as it probably won’t be one of the more popular rule changes.
Additionally, referees did not explain the call when they made it, choosing simply to just say, “Illegal defense,” and leave it at that. It would have been much more helpful for them to say something like, “Illegal defense: Too many men lined up on the line of scrimmage” and then have the broadcast explain what happened with replay.
Instead, we were just left to figure out what Illegal Defense was on our own. That’s no way to make a significant rule change more accessible to fans.
The talent drop-off was noticeable
Ultimately, the league will sink or swim based on competitiveness and the quality of the product on the field. It was easy to see on Saturday night that these players are not at a professional level of play yet. The quarterbacks looked pretty bad all night (hell, the San Diego Fleet made a quarterback change in the season opener!) and there weren’t really any phenomenal individual players that stood out from the night.
That being said, the game was not sloppy, either. There weren’t a lot of dropped passes or big gaffes. I’m sure some of the poor play could be attributed to rust and lack of chemistry. Remember, teams are far from polished in Week 1 of the NFL.
I saw enough out there to believe the players may improve as the season rolls on, but if it doesn’t actually happen, there should be some real concern there.