Since the offseason continues to drone on with the same five stories regurgitated consistently throughout the day, and the same five shows rerun on NFLN ad nauseum, I thought I'd posit a topic of conversation that I've never seen discussed, and really first thought of myself only earlier today (at least to the point of giving any significant amount of thought to it). That topic is the double standard applied to statistics based on the era of a certain player's career.
Now, we've all heard the most common statement in statistical football arguments before: Player X's record isn't as impressive as Player Y's record because Player X (the modern-day player, in this case) has the benefit of rules that favor the offense; for instance, Peter King, in his infinite wisdom, uses the "different era" argument to support his claim that Don Hutson is the greatest wide receiver of all time – despite such things as logic – by stating that Hutson's 99 touchdowns are more impressive because teams really didn't pass back then. Never mind that Jerry Rice is simply better than everyone who's ever played his position by any metric; I'd argue that it was easier to dominate the league back then because half the people playing in it didn't even view football as a full-time job, more of a hobby. Probably most recently, this argument was applied to downplay Drew Brees' surpassing of Dan Marino's single-season yardage record (not that it's necessarily invalid, as two other players managed to eclipse the 5000-yard barrier in that same season). Although I sometimes see the merit of the argument for offensive records, 1984 wasn't that different, as far as rules, from 2011. Anyway, this offensive talk ultimately just sets up my main point.
If modern records can be diminished because the rules so greatly favor the offense, couldn't the converse be true for older defensive records? Take sacks, for example: the late Deacon Jones, arguably one of the greatest defensive players of all time, is often lamented for playing before sacks were an official statistic, and pundits often note that if they had been a statistic during his career, he would likely have the record; however, when Deacon Jones played, one of the techniques for playing on the defensive line was the head slap, literally disorienting the offensive lineman by smacking one's hand against the blocker's earhole on his helmet – if you can't get past the lineman at the point, there's something seriously wrong with you. Also, defensive linemen at that time had the added benefit of a secondary which was allowed to maul receivers anywhere on the field, meaning they had all day to get to the quarterback, who likely wasn't exactly Michael Vick or Fran Tarkenton. None of this mentions that the jersey grab which is part of basic blocking technique today would've been a holding penalty back then, once again making it that much easier for the defender to get off a block.
Again, I'm not saying any of this to claim that one era is better than another or that the players of yesteryear couldn't handle the rules today or anything of that ilk. All I'm saying is for all the talk of how easy the offenses have it today, we should be just as quick to note how easy the defenses had it then.