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NFL Team Defenses Appear Historically Bad This Season

The Seahawks and several other NFL teams are struggling to be considered great teams. Why? NFL team defenses around the league are plain bad.
NFL Team defenses

Prior to the 2020 NFL season, the Seattle Seahawks were a “quality bet” to win the Super Bowl.  They were returning their offensive core and Russell Wilson is a top-five quarterback in the league. But since the dismantling of their “Legion of Boom,” the team hasn’t won a second Vince Lombardi trophy. By Week 5 of this season,  Seattle’s defense had allowed 2,356 yards. The Seahawks gave up 471 yards a game and were on pace to allow over 7,500 yards in a 16-game season. Yes, the return of strong safety Jamal Adams and the acquisition of defensive end Carlos Dunlap has helped, but they still rank near the bottom of the league in total team defense. Seattle is not alone either. Bad defenses are rampant around the NFL. Losing and even elite teams are giving up double-digit leads on a weekly basis. What’s going on?

Why Are NFL Team Defenses So Bad?

The defending Super Bowl champions, the Kansas City Chiefs battled the New Orleans Saints on the road during Week 15. The contest pitted two of the best teams in the NFL in a possible Super Bowl LV preview. The game featured two of the best offenses in the league and was exciting until the final whistle. But it shouldn’t have been. On two separate occasions during the game, the Chiefs took a 14-point lead in the game. During the first half, quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City offense scored the first 14 points of the game. Then again in the fourth quarter, the Chiefs took a 29-15 lead. A competent defense would have easily won this game. Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees returned to the field after missing four weeks from severe injuries to his ribs and a punctured lung. Plus the Saints were missing wide receiver Michael Thomas who was placed on IR with a high ankle sprain. However, the depleted Saints still moved the ball up and down the field on the Chiefs.

So why did the Saints’ defense fail to close out the game? There are two main reasons why NFL teams’ defenses struggle. The first is a lack of pass rush and the second is an over-reliance on coverage. As Pro Football Focus wrote this week, “The Saints defense tried to present another blueprint for slowing down the Chiefs’ offense. [They played] a significant number of snaps with a two-high safety look — often in a Cover 2 Man defense….” The defensive strategy didn’t work. The Chiefs still put up 29 points and over 430 yards of offense. Brees was sacked only once and overall the Chiefs team leader in sacks is defensive tackle Chris Ford with 6.5 sacks.

Yes, Mahomes and his playmakers are incredible and they’ve can come back on anyone. Even a ten-point deficit to the San Francisco 49ers in last year’s Super Bowl wasn’t enough. But eventually, a bad defense will cost them victories.

A Poor Defense Has Wrecked the Atlanta Falcons

In many ways, the Atlanta Falcons franchise hasn’t recovered from the historic loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI. For most of the Matt Ryan-era of the team, the Falcons has featured a high-powered offense. But their defense has lagged behind. As you may recall, the Patriots overcame a 25-point third-quarter deficit in the Super Bowl to defeat the Atlanta Falcons. Bucky Brooks of wrote an extremely detailed breakdown of the game. Brooks highlights how the Falcons played more zone coverage near the red zone and on long-yardage downs. The Patriots dinked and dunked their way to a victory. True, the Falcons were trying to rest a tired defense but they didn’t pressure Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady enough to win the game.

As the New York Giants showed twice, the most effective way to beat Brady is pressure from your defensive line. Linebacker Vic Beasley led the Falcons with 15.5 sacks in the 2016-17 season but he was neutralized in the Super Bowl.

Since their historic loss, the Falcons have struggled mightily. Matt Ryan still has great offensive weapons such as Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, but they’re no longer Super Bowl contenders. The Falcons (28th in total defense) have given up nearly 6,000 yards to their opponents. In a Week 2 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, the Falcons couldn’t hold on to a 20-point first-half lead. Then again this past week, the Falcons couldn’t hold on to a 17-point second-half lead against Brady’s new team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Falcons’ team leader in sacks this season is middle linebacker Deion Jones with 4.5. They lack a pass rush and like most NFL teams play a lot of zone.

Solving Bad NFL Team Defenses

The lack of great pass rushers and over-reliance on coverage is impacting nearly every team in the NFL. T.J. Watt of the 11-3 Pittsburgh Steelers is currently leading the league in sacks with 13. The Steelers are in the midst of a three-game losing streak and their defense was exposed in Week 15 by the third-string quarterback of the Cincinnati Bengals.

Defensive tackle Aaron Donald has twelve sacks for the LA Rams, who just lost to the winless New York Jets. What’s going on? Has the league changed that much from the days of the Giants NASCAR defensive line? Teams are in fact playing more coverage in today’s NFL. USA Today wrote, “The modern NFL is a quick-passing game, and even the best pass-rushers can’t always pressure the quarterback when he’s taking a series of zero- to three-step drops.” However, if teams rely on more coverage, offenses will be able to move up and down the field at will. It’s why you’re seeing so many comebacks in the NFL. NFL defenses are bad-plain and simple.

Defensive coordinators and talent evaluators must find a new generation of edge pass rushers and cornerbacks who can play man-to-man defense or else no NFL lead will ever be safe again.

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The Seahawks and several other NFL teams are struggling to be considered great teams. Why? NFL team defenses around the league are plain bad.


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