David Kirkpatrick

September 10, 2009

River basins, the NFL and the spread offense

Here’s an interesting article from the Wall Street Journal making the argument the NFL is seeing prolific offenses because the game is a flow system where the offense acts as a river does on its basin to constantly improve efficiency.

It’s a fun read, but for the increase in offensive output I’m going to go with a rule book that wildly favors the offensive side of the ball and scoring, coupled with some offensive twists — like the wildcat and the spread offense — that are trickling up from high school and college football.

But hey, the football season is about to officially kick off and what better way to spend a little time than to contemplate how the mighty forces of a river equate to the offensive production of your favorite team.

From the link:

Some football thinkers believe these numbers speak to a temporary period of offensive dominance in the NFL—just one more high point in an endlessly fluctuating historical curve. But if you venture a bit beyond the particulars of football, to the principles of science, there’s another argument to be made: that the NFL’s high-speed, high-scoring offenses are a reflection of one of the laws of nature—the tendency of all things to evolve toward efficiency.

Adrian Bejan a professor of mechanical engineering at Duke University, likens the NFL’s evolution to a river’s effect on its basin. (Stay with us, here.) Over time, a river relentlessly wears away its banks and, as a result, water flows faster and faster toward its mouth. When obstacles fall in its way, say, a tree, or a boulder—or in the case of an NFL offense, beefy linebackers like the Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Lewis or the Chicago Bears’ Brian Urlacher—it will figure out how to wear those away, too.

“The game is a flow system, a river basin of bodies that are milling around trying to find the most effective and easiest way to move,” says Prof. Bejan. “Over time you will end up with the right way to play the game, with the patterns that are the most efficient.”

In 1996, Prof. Bejan, who began following the NFL after coming to the U.S. from Romania to attend college, came up with a theory about natural phenomena known as the Constructal Law. The theory, he says, can be used to explain the evolution of efficiency in everything from river basins to mechanical design. By extension, he says, it could also be applied to the explosion of offense in the NFL.

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