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With no NFL lockout, defenses are back

Passing games flourished last season with an abbreviated training camp, but the tide has turned toward the other side of the ball in 2012.

November 18, 2012|Sam Farmer
  • Brian Urlacher runs in one of the seven touchdowns Chicago's defense has scored this season.
Brian Urlacher runs in one of the seven touchdowns Chicago's defense… (Brian Cassella / MCT )

The NFL is a passing league.

How many times have you heard that?

And it's true. Passing games generate the majority of yards for NFL teams. But the spotlight on quarterbacks is not quite as bright this season as it was a year ago, when 10 of them would throw for more than 4,000 yards, and three — Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford — surpassed 5,000. Brees set the league record with 5,476.

To a large extent, the pendulum has swung back to the defensive side of the ball this season, with many of the elite teams near the top of those rankings.

This, a season after the New York Giants (27th-ranked defense) beat New England (31st) in the Super Bowl, with the Patriots ranked behind everyone but Green Bay, the 2010 champions.

Defensive rankings, which are based on yards surrendered, don't tell the whole story. For instance, if your team scores a lot, it might give up a lot of yards in garbage time when the game's already on ice. That means your team drops in the rankings, even though those yards were meaningless.

Still, a lot of this season's best teams are at least partly defined by their defenses: Houston, Chicago, San Francisco, Denver, Seattle.…

There are exceptions, and there always will be, but for the most part, the best teams this season also happen to have some of the best defenses.

Former coach Jon Gruden has an interesting theory about that. He believes the 2011 lockout had a negative impact on defenses, setting the stage for a record passing year.

"The lockout didn't just affect quarterbacks," ESPN analyst Gruden said. "The lockout destroyed a lot of those defenses. Offenses were able to go practice among themselves during the lockout. You saw Drew Brees running plays, you saw a lot of quarterbacks running practices.

"Defensive guys can't do anything without an offense. These guys can't communicate, can't recognize anything. You've got to know what you're doing. When you're [Green Bay defensive coordinator] Dom Capers or [Patriots Coach] Bill Belichick, and you're running all these different coverages out of all these different personnel groupings, how in the hell is that fair to a defense to show up and play against Drew Brees on national TV?"

A traditional off-season helped defenses catch up.

Said Gruden: "The lack of a lockout this year really accelerated the defense's ability to recognize formations, communicate coverages, be much more competitive and at times be flat-out dominant."


Nothing against the fine production work of the NFL Network, but staging Thursday night games throughout the season is a mistake.

First of all, it's too much football. Part of the appeal of the NFL is the anticipation that builds as Sunday approaches. Now, that's dampened because it feels like there's football throughout the week. Yes, there's such a thing as too much of a good thing. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

What's more, for a team to play on what amounts to three day's rest is not good for the product. It's rushed, and it doesn't let us see the teams at their best.

And this concept of giving every team at least one prime-time game is just silly. Some teams aren't good enough to deserve it. It's like giving every kid a trophy for participating. Then, you wind up with Miami at Buffalo as the game of the night. Come on.

Finally, having Thursday night games every week takes away from the magical feel of Thanksgiving games, and the Thursday games that used to follow in the last weeks of the regular season. Now, it just feels routine.

Special isn't special if it happens every week.

Quick snaps

Tidbits from R.J. Bell of

• Dallas quarterback Tony Romo has two touchdowns and 10 interceptions in home games.

• Indianapolis rookie Andrew Luck on the road: two touchdowns, seven interceptions.

• Tampa Bay's Josh Freeman has had a passer rating of at least 100 in each of the last five games.

• Baltimore has won 11 in a row against AFC North opponents.

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