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Sport The NFL is in the midst of an all-time scoring binge. How can defenses stop it?

17:50  18 october  2020
17:50  18 october  2020 Source:   touchdownwire.usatoday.com

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You knew that the NFL would be different this season. With reduced offseason programs, minimized practices, and no preseason due to the coronavirus pandemic, things were going to be a bit wonky when the regular season came around and games were played. The question was, which side of the ball would be most affected?

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Through the first five weeks of the 2020 season, and heading into Week 6 as we are today, there’s no question that NFL defenses are getting the short end of the stick. Through those first five weeks, per NFL Research, the league has never seen offensive performance like this at any time in its history.

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Kansas City scored so many times the stadium ran out of celebration fireworks. That may have been the most emphatic comeback the league ’s ever They bore witness to the greatest comeback in NFL playoff history back in 1993 — and they watched it all take place at the hands of a backup quarterback.

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There have been 453 touchdowns through five weeks, an all-time mark. 436 of those touchdowns have come from offenses, also a record. 3,958 total points and 51.4 points per game? Also records. In addition, seven teams — the Packers, Seahawks, Cowboys, Browns, Saints, Titans, and Raiders — are scoring over 30 points per game, which is the most teams to do so since at least 1970.

Most of this is coming through the passing game, which should come as no surprise. The NFL’s total passer rating of 95.6 is a record through five weeks, as the league-wide completion percentage of 66.2%.

And even if a defense is able to hold an opposing offense for a while, there is absolutely no guarantee that it’ll last. The 2020 season is the first in which one team has been able to overcome a deficit of at least 16 points and win a game in every week of the season in NFL history. 54 of the league’s 77 games so far have been within one score in the fourth quarter, the most ever, and 39 of those games have been decided by eight points or fewer.

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The old days of trying to control the clock and keep the opposing offense off the field? Might as well jump, as noted philosopher David Lee Roth once posited. Doing that in the current offensive climate is the strategic equivalent of holding a grenade in your hand and hoping it’s a dud. As a result, teams like the Cowboys and Seahawks, whose defenses have little hope of stopping opposing offenses — especially in the passing game — are simply fighting fire with fire as never before and hoping it’ll work out. It has worked out for Seattle, who come into their Week 6 bye with a 5-0 record and the most touchdowns (23) and the most offensive points (169) in the league. Encouraged for years to Let Russ Cook, Pete Carroll has finally accepted that not only should Russ Cook, but that at this point, he’s the only cook with a winning recipe.

Why are defenses falling behind to this historic degree? We can talk about rules changes designed to favor offenses, but that’s been going on for decades. More likely is the fact that defensive players and coaches have not had the usual time and practice reps to get on the same page. This isn’t true for everyone — look at cornerback Xavier Rhodes’ career resurgence in Indianapolis with the Colts’ preferred zone schemes as opposed to Minnesota’s more island-based coverages — but one does tend to see more blown coverages and miscommunications than in past years.

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In addition, the NFL’s usual paradigm of copying whatever the Patriots are doing and hoping it works out could be a problem — more than in previous seasons, teams are trying to play man coverage as the Patriots do, and a lot of those defenses are getting maxed out as a result. Even the Patriots themselves are getting maxed out in man coverage far more than in 2019. In their 35-30 Week 2 loss to the aforementioned Seahawks, all five of Russell Wilson’s passing touchdowns came against some kind of man coverage.

One solution is for defenses to play more intelligent zone coverage, as the Titans did against the Bills last Tuesday in a 42-16 win. Bills quarterback Josh Allen had been ripping man coverage apart early in the season, but Tennessee showed him different coverage looks pre- and post-snap — a great way to upend any young quarterback — and Allen’s performance suffered as a result. As the Chargers and other teams have shown, this strategy is even effective against Patrick Mahomes.

Of course, intelligent zone coverage takes time, and reps, to burn into the playbook. Perhaps as the season goes along and things are hopefully more “normalized” to whatever extent from a national perspective, defenses will catch up to a degree. But the NFL’s all-time scoring binge appears to be here to stay.

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