The Weekly Kickoff with Geoff Schwartz: NFL Week 7
Editor’s note: The Weekly Kickoff is a weekly column from the pen of former NFL offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz. Check back every week for the latest edition.
Mark Morrison would be proud of NFL defenses, as they’ve returned.
For the first month of the season, scoring was wild and averaging over 51 points per game. The over points total for games was hitting at a 60 percent clip, far higher than a usual season. The last two weeks of the NFL season have reversed that total, with the over hitting at 39 percent and scoring dropping by two full points a game. The reason for this? Well, the best defenses in the league are starting to take over.
“Defense wins championships” is a mantra we’ve heard in the NFL for ages, and while partly true, offense now rules the league. All the rules are geared towards the offense in the NFL because people want to watch scoring. Quarterbacks are more prepared than ever before to play the position, as they start 7-on-7 camps early in their lives. Athletes, when given the option to play offense or defense, choose to play wide receiver, a glamour position in the NFL. You’re unable to win routinely in the NFL in 2020 without these two positions.
Just because offense has never been more crucial to winning, you can’t have a slacking defense. The defense needs to be a complement to the offense, as we saw last season with the Chiefs’ D, which improved at the end of the season to be a forceful unit to help them win the Super Bowl.
A defense can complement an offense by pressuring the quarterback at high rate. Offenses in the NFL are built around protecting the quarterback and making sure they can throw without pressure in their face. Because these quarterbacks are better prepared than ever, they don’t get rattled by how different defenses look, by crowd noise or the pressure of the moment. They get rattled by pressure in their grill. By notion of physical pain. When you get hit the QB, you have a chance.
Secondly, a defense needs to force turnovers. This can happen from creating that pressure, but also from a secondary that’s aggressive and can run. Speed is the name of the game and defenses have to run. They need linebackers who can cover running backs and tight ends, who are often just glorified receivers. There’s two teams in the NFL right now who fit this mold, the Steelers and the Bucs.
The Steelers and Bucs are teams who can generate pressure and force turnovers at a high rate. The Steelers are first in the NFL in pressure and blitz rate, while Tampa Bay isn’t far behind. We saw last weekend the Bucs shut down the Packers, who came into the game averaging 38 points over their first four games. The Steelers shut down a Browns offense that had scored over 30 points in first straight games before playing the black and gold. Both of these defenses will punch you in the mouth.
Beyond those two teams, we are seeing the Colts and Bears being carried by their defenses. Chicago cannot win games if the opposing offense scores over 24 points. Indy has the ability to score, but not consistently. After an off week, the Chiefs’ defense reemerged as a force. The Ravens offense has sputtered at times, but not their defense, which continue to harass quarterbacks.
On the flip side, we are seeing teams like the Bills, who are fantastic on offense, struggle recently as their defense struggles. The 5-0 Titans are outstanding on offense, but must hold on to win games close because their defense can’t get any stops. The Seahawks, with the best offense in the league according to football outsiders, play too many close games because their defense can’t stop me and you. For these teams to compete to win a Super Bowl, they will need their defense to step up.
While we love offense, cheer for fantasy points and bet for the overs, defenses are starting to separate the contenders from the pretenders in the NFL.