How NFL Defenses Fell So Far Behind Modern Offenses

Steven Ruiz at For The Win has put together an excellent series of articles looking at how NFL defenses tried to copy the Seattle Seahawks' Super Bowl-winning scheme ... and why most of them failed miserably. Part 1 (linked below) covers just what offenses have done to give defenses so much trouble. Part 2 looks at pass coverage schemes that should become more common in the near future, while Part 3 examines defensive line techniques. Finally, Part 4 discusses the ideal way to build a defensive roster in the modern NFL. 

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11 comments, Last at 09 Sep 2019, 10:01am

#1 by Will Allen // Sep 04, 2019 - 3:25pm

Good stuff, but headline writing can be a little deceptive. Offensive scoring was higher in 2013, compared to last year, for example.

My brilliant insight is that defensive scheming is a lot like offensive playcalling. The schemers snd playcallers with really good players tend to be much smarter than the schemers and playcallers with poor players.

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#6 by Pat // Sep 06, 2019 - 4:58pm

Need to be careful there, that's *points*, not offensive scoring. Conflating "points" with "offensive performance" drives me nuts. 2013 had 23.4 points per game, for instance, but only 2.4 touchdowns and 1.9 field goal attempts/game, implying offenses generated the potential for only 22.2 points/game. 2018 had 2.6 touchdowns and 1.8 field goal attempts/game, implying offenses generated the potential for 23.6 points/game.

2013 had more *points*/game because it had nearly 50% more non-offensive touchdowns, a higher field-goal percentage, twice as many safeties, and a guaranteed extra point. None of which are really purely "offense."

Fun fact, though: if you *really* want an offensive juggernaut year, look at the 1958 NFL season. It had 22.6 ppg, compared to 2013's 23.4 ppg, for instance, but that's partly because kickers sucked: in 1958, teams scored 2.7 touchdowns/game vs. 2013's 2.4, and attempted 1.8 field goals vs. 2013's 1.9 - so offenses provided the *potential* for 24.3 ppg.

In fact if we transplant 2013 kickers back to 1958, correcting for field goal percentage (+2.19 ppg) and extra point percentage (+0.2 ppg), teams would've scored, on average, a ridiculous 25 points per game!

(Yes, of course, if kickers make the field goals, the team kicks off, so field position changes, blah-de-blah.)

The 2018 Chiefs still would be the highest-scoring *team* of all time, though - handing the 1958 Colts a 2018 kicker only gives them 33.3 ppg, vs the 2018 Chiefs 35.3 (although excluding the Chiefs defensive scores tightens that a bit, but not enough).

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#7 by Will Allen // Sep 08, 2019 - 11:16am

Where do you get that from? I thought I was looking at offensive points only, but I can't remember where from.

I'd really like to see the goal posts narrowed by 10-20 percent.

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#8 by Pat // Sep 08, 2019 - 11:40am

I collected the data myself from PFR. I've been curious about the actual long-term evolution of strategy/balance in the NFL is for a while. Ideally you'd want something smarter rather than just scoring, but that's a much bigger problem since you lose play-by-play data pretty early on. Interestingly, 1958 isn't actually even the peak touchdown year: that belongs to 1948 (won by the Eagles!), where teams scored a ridiculous *2.9* touchdowns/game, on average, and nearly outscored 2013 in raw points, too, at 23.2 ppg. Difference is that they barely attempted field goals in that era, and the 0.9 fewer attempted field goals/game easily outvalues the 0.2 more touchdowns/game. It's funny that people complain about the NFL games being so high scoring now when the 1948 Eagles had 5 40+ wins (42% of their season! Even the 2018 Chiefs didn't do that!) and the Cardinals were winning games 63-35.

Totally agree regarding the goal posts. I don't really understand the downside. Less field goal kicking is a good thing.

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#9 by Will Allen // Sep 08, 2019 - 12:29pm

Easy field goals just encourages a less aggressive offensive approach, which is the last thing this game needs, in terms of entertainment.

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#11 by Pat // Sep 09, 2019 - 10:01am

If the Bears hadn't considered a 43-yard field goal a "gimme" they might've actually gone for it on 4th and 2. And as "exciting" as the double-doink was, a 4th and 2 for the game would've been more exciting.

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#2 by GwillyGecko // Sep 05, 2019 - 1:59pm

He seems to be overrating the importance of the 2013 Seahawks. As good of a team and as good as that defense was, they only won one Super Bowl and the defense blew it a year later despite still having the two safeties, Bobby Wagner, and Michael Bennett (the four players specifically mentioned in part four of the article)

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#3 by Aaron Brooks G… // Sep 05, 2019 - 2:08pm

You should probably account for the Seahawks losing Avril and Lane during the game, and the rest of the Legion playing with significant injuries.

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#4 by Will Allen // Sep 06, 2019 - 10:13am

Yeah, that was among the more injury influenced Super Bowl results in recent memory. Until those two in game injuries, the Patriots were pretty inefficient on offense.

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#5 by Lost Ti-Cats Fan // Sep 06, 2019 - 11:55am

There's lots of good stuff in these articles. I just wish the TV announcers would give us a bit more heads up about what's being used during the game in real time. The camera angles almost never give you enough of a view of the field to be able to sort it out yourself, except on the occasional replay where you see enough angles to piece it together.

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