NFL offenses flying higher than ever; defenses frustrated
Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas runs for a 71-yard touchdown against Steelers safety Ryan Mundy Sunday in Denver.
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Remember the devastating hit Ryan Clark delivered on Ravens running back Willis McGahee in the 2008 AFC championship game? Clark said hits like that, or rather the lack of them in today's NFL, is one of the main reasons scoring is soaring in the league.
Five teams scored 40 points or more in Week 1, an NFL record for an opening week. The 791 points scored in all 16 games were the second most in league history.
But all this offense isn't a new development. The 2011 season was one of the highest scoring in NFL history, with an average of 44.4 points scored per game. The 16 games last week averaged 49 points.
"The game is softer," said Clark, the Steelers' Pro Bowl safety. "You can't hit and tackle the way you used to. You can't touch the quarterback at all. You can't touch a receiver after 5 yards. The game is more wide open because of the rules. It's become an offensive-friendly league and people seem to enjoy it."
Clark and teammate James Harrison have become poster children of sorts for the NFL when it comes to the elimination of helmet-to-helmet hits. Clark punished McGahee when he turned up field after catching a pass. The hit, which did not draw a penalty, left McGahee unconscious on the field.
That 2008 Steelers defense ranks as one of the best defenses of all time. It gave up only 13.9 points and 237 yards per game, leading the league in almost every meaningful statistical category.
"There won't be another team to do that," Clark said. "That's not the way it's structured anymore. The tide has turned in football with the rules -- quote unquote -- for player safety. It's the evolution of football right now."
Some of Clark's teammates offered other reasons for the high scores. They said teams are passing more often and running more plays because of the use of no-huddle offenses.
The no-huddle allows offenses to dictate defensive personnel, limiting the opportunities for defensive coordinators to substitute players and use their full repertoire.
"You definitely have to lessen what you do," nose tackle Casey Hampton said. "When you're doing less and they have their whole playbook, of course they're going to make more plays out there.
"You can't make mistakes. When you're not doing a whole lot [scheme-wise] you just have to play a whole lot better."
Cornerback Ike Taylor has an interesting opinion, saying the evolution of receivers have played a big part in offenses becoming more dangerous.
"If you pay attention, a lot of these plays are being made by guys when tackles are missed," Taylor said. "These receivers are not small anymore. They are 6-3, 6-4 and 240 pounds and can run just as fast as a short guy. It creates bad matchups for a lot of people."
Denver receiver Demaryius Thomas, who is 6 feet 3, 236 pounds, ran past members of the Steelers secondary after catching a screen pass in the opener last week. The 71-yard touchdown put the Broncos ahead for good.
In the AFC wild-card game last season, Thomas took a short pass across the middle and turned it into an 80-yard touchdown after he stiff-armed Taylor and then outran everyone else on the field.
"It's all about the tackle and the catch," Taylor said. "Now there are guys like Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. Guys that tall usually don't run fast, but now these guys are running 4.3 and 4.4 [in the 40-yard dash]. That creates problems for people."
Safety Troy Polamalu said the league is now going through an era when defenses are trying to catch up to offenses. Adjustments are made year to year and game to game, but only so much can be done when the rules are stacked in favor of the offenses.
"This league is a lot about what's not and what's in style," he said. "When people start spreading each other out and see the success with a certain scheme, then everyone gravitates toward that. It's the same with defense. When I first got into the league, maybe two or three teams were running 3-4 defenses. Everyone was evolving from that Tampa-2 style defense. Now there are pretty much 3-4 defenses for the most part. It will devolve back to the old way eventually."
Just when is anyone's guess. The New York Jets, the opponent Sunday at Heinz Field, scored 48 points in their opener against the Bills. In previous years, the Jets had been known more for their defense than their offense. The same could be said for the Ravens, who scored 44 in their opener against the Bengals.
"That's what people want to see," Taylor said. "There are no more 17-14 games. Everyone wants to see points. Rules are being changed for that. As a defender you have to learn how to adjust and just play football."
First Published September 15, 2012 12:00 am