The Courtroom: NFL Topics: Where’s the Defense?

UPDATED: 12/18

Wassup guys? I haven’t done a good commentary in a while, so I figured I better get on one before you forget that this column exists.  There have been a few topics of interest in the opening weeks of the NFL.  The one I want to address the most is the apparent lack of defense in games thus far.

Where's the defense?

In the first two weeks of the season, there have been a record number of points scored and yards gained.  Teams that you wouldn’t expect to score like the Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions have put up a ton of points.  Teams with great defenses on the other hand, have struggled.  The Green Bay Packers have given up nearly 1000 yards in 2 games (952 to be exact).  And then you have individuals like Tom Brady putting up monster numbers. (He’s on pace for 7500 yards!)

What could be the reason for this apparent lack of defense thus far? A few things.  I consider Michael Wilbon to be one of the smarter individuals on ESPN.  Even though I don’t agree with a lot he says, he still explains why he thinks the way he does.  That can’t be said for a majority of other writers on ESPN.  Anyways, Wilbon wrote an interesting article explaining why the league is defense-less.  Simply put, offensive players (wide receivers and especially quarterbacks) are pampered.  Even a slight touch to the quarterback by a defensive player ends up in a fine. (Ok not every hit, but I think a majority of fans understand my point.) Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for player safety.  However, I think the NFL is overreacting in terms of protecting its players.  Quarterbacks can just sit in the pocket all day in today’s game.  They know they will not get hit hard.

Tom Brady can sit back all day without fear, like he did against the Dolphins in the season opener

To an extent, receivers feel the same way.  They know they won’t get leveled while “in the act of making a catch.”  The NFL is such a high speed game; how can you expect defensive players to just sit there and wait for receivers to fully secure a ball, plant their feet, and start running before they can hit him? That’s ludicrous.  Another thing that bothers me is this idea that you can’t hit a “defenseless receiver.”  What is a “defenseless receiver”?  Can you only hit a receiver when he’s turned to you and said, “Alright man I’m ready to be hit”?  Absolutely insane.

Players are taught to play hard and do whatever it takes to separate the ball from the player.  Defenses like the Steelers of the ’70’s or the ’85 Bears would never make it in today’s league.  Players like Lawrence Taylor or even Reggie White would not make it in today’s game.  Some hard nosed players in today’s game get labeled as dirty due to their tough play.  Ndamukong Suh and James Harrison come to mind. (Ok Harrison has had some questionable hits, but I still think he’s unfairly criticized).  I believe that for the most part, you should just let the players play.  Next time, if Suh goes in for a quarterback and trucks him, just let it go. I’m using the Jay Cutler hit last year as reference.  It’s hard for a 6’4, 307 pound guy to just stop when he’s going at full speed. It’s not hard for him to make a quarterback who is 100 pounds lighter than him look like a rag doll.

Also, like accidental grabbing of the face mask, accidental helmet-to-helmet hits should be flagged. But I don’t believe you should be able to fine them after the game.  As I said before, the game moves at such a high speed.  People say that the “proper” way to tackle is to lead with your shoulders.  However, this is easier said then done. I’ve mentioned I’m all for safety, but the NFL is fooling itself if it thinks it can eliminate these hits from the game with fines and threats of suspension.  They’ll always be there no matter what.  What they should do instead is really go after players who really make unnecessary contact.  Instead of just lumping all “bad” hits together, concentrate on the ones that are truly out of line.  If the NFL is going to go back after every questionable hit and review it, then they should be able to tell which ones are really blatant attacks.  The Suh hit on Cutler looks bad in full speed and similar hits will likely get flagged in the future (although I believe they shouldn’t), but the NFL should see that in slow motion (and the common sense that a 300 pound lineman moving at high speed will make a guy much smaller than him go flying due to the laws of physics) is not fine-worthy.  It’s plays like the Dunta Robinson hit on Jeremy Maclin in last week’s game that warrant serious fines and suspensions (he should have been suspended instead of just fined since he’s a repeat offender).  You can be safe, set an example, and still have hard hits.  All it takes is a little common sense.

These are the hits that warrant serious fines and suspensions. In this case, there's no doubt in my mind Robinson should have been suspended instead of just fined.

Alas, I’ve ranted too much. Let’s get back to defense.  Due to the pass-happy nature of the game and the NFL’s (excessive) crackdown on hard hits, defenses are adopting moar of a “bend but don’t break” mentality.  Let teams compile a ton of yards, just don’t let them score.  In other words, play tough defense at specific moments and make the big play.  The Patriots last year adopted this mentality; they were ranked near the bottom of the league in pass defense (30th I think?) but still compiled a 14-2 record (yes this was partly due to an amazing offense, but the defense made plays when it had too).  The Packers as stated in the beginning of the article, have given up a ton of yards.  But they have played great defense when it matters the most and have had many big plays.  For example, they’ve allowed only three touchdowns on 11 opponent trips to the red zone (think about week 1’s goal line stuff of Mark Ingram on the final play), a touchdown percentage of 27.3 that ranks third in the NFL.   They also rank near the top of the league in takeaways (five) and sacks (seven).  I think until the NFL realizes that they are over-policing the game, we will just have to evaluate defense in a different way.  Hopefully, they will.  We fans can only hope.  Until next time people…

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