Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, October 25, 2011 at 10:07 AM
Most of the media talk this year has been about the explosion of offenses. That's calmed down a bit in recent days because of a few injuries here and there…and some quarterback changes that may have made teams worse rather than better. But, 2011 is still a tough season to post great defensive numbers.
*Rules changes have made life tougher for defensive backs
*Rules changes have made life easier for offensive linemen
*No huddle offenses help quarterbacks get favorable matchups vs. tiring defenses
*A handful of truly great quarterbacks can seemingly do what they want
We ran the Drive Point numbers for offense here in our Sunday edition of the NOTEBOOK. Drive Points are those scored and allowed on drives of 60 yards or more. We believe they're the best indicator stat in all of sports (not just football) because they tell you so much of what you need to know about a team. There's no 'Holy Grail' of stats in the world of sports. Drive Points carry much more than their share of weight when it comes to making an accurate analysis. Now it's time to look at defenses.
The midpoint in the league through this past Sunday's action was right around 13.0 for defenses. So, anything in single digits is fantastic. And, you'll see some highly regarded defenses checking in around 11. Allowing at least two touchdowns per game on long drives used to be a sign of incompetence. This year, a mark around 13-14 or so is treading water! The very worst defenses are in the 17-20 range.
We may see a reduction in these standards as the weather turns colder…and as the percentage of divisional games increases (we've below the schedule norms to this point of the campaign in terms of divisional rivalry games).
Let's start at the top, where many of the usual suspects are right where you'd expect them to be.
BEST DRIVE POINT DEFENSES
San Francisco 8.3
San Diego 10.3
You're starting to here some naysayers nitpick about the Detroit defense. Sure, their yards-per-carry may not be what some of you would expect. But, they're giving up some yards in the middle of the field while keeping people out of the end zone. Detroit leads the whole NFL with a mark of 7.6 despite playing their home games indoors on a fast track…and despite playing their road games this year so far in Tampa Bay, Minnesota and Dallas (two more domes, plus a balmy day in Florida). This is a terrific defense, and don't let some TV pundit tell you otherwise.
Minnesota, San Francisco, and Baltimore all have great defensive reputations. No surprises there. Minnesota held super-explosive Green Bay to 14 Drive Points this past Sunday and just 25% on third down conversions. San Francisco's worth paying close attention to this year because they'll be upgrading the offense under new coach Jim Harbaugh while maintaining much of the strong defensive principals of his predecessor Mike Singletary. 'Transition' years are often great because the best of the new guy is merged with the best of the old guy. Over time, the new guy's weaknesses become more prevalent.
Cleveland and Seattle were helped by facing each other this week. But, their numbers were still good before that game. These teams have better defenses than is commonly realized. And, Cleveland's ball control passing attack helps to keep their defense fresh.
Dallas cracks the top eight with a new Ryan-inspired attitude on defense. This team is going to be lethal if Tony Romo can figure out how to NOT throw interceptions at horrible times.
PRETTY GOOD DRIVE POINT DEFENSES
Kansas City 11.0
NY Jets 11.3
We have five teams there in the 11's. It didn't seem quite right to put them all in the elite group because that would create 13 teams of elite's. But, they're clearly better than average to a degree that's meaningful. So, we created a 'pretty good' category for today's report. The first three teams on the list are AFC playoff teams from last year. Houston is now in position to be an AFC playoff team THIS year. And, let's note how well Philadelphia shows up in a year where its defense is getting blasted by the media. This team is getting no field position breaks because the offense is so turnover prone. And, they're not getting much in-game rest for the same reason.
To this point, anything under 12.5 could be considered 'playoff caliber defense' in our view. Yes, there will definitely be playoff teams who are so great on offense that they don't have to be above average in defense. We've not gone through the teams who can 'win with defense' as a major calling card. It's very important that handicappers realize Houston is now in that category…and that Philadelphia hasn't dropped out of the category regardless of what you're hearing on studio shows (at least, not yet anyway).
THE PARITY HUNK
Tampa Bay 13.6
New Orleans 14.1
Green Bay 14.4
The midpoint of the league would fall right between Washington and Chicago. All the teams at 14.1 to 14.4 are a good game away from moving right to league average. And, there's a tendency within this group to play shootouts that may be disguising true defensive talent. Green Bay and New Orleans will sometimes run out the clock with their defenses because they're comfortably ahead. Let's consider these guys the 'average' defenses. Green Bay's getting a bit too casual for our liking. We expect them to bring more intensity when it comes time to win a championship. Winter weather should help them out some too.
WORST DRIVE POINT DEFENSES
St. Louis 16.2
New England 16.8
NY Giants 17.0
Buffalo has won its share of shootouts so far…but you don't win championships in this league playing shootouts. Even if you make a mental adjustment for strength of schedule (they've faced some very good offenses), this is still a potential dark cloud looming over the storybook season. Their games against the Jets will tell us a lot about where their defense really stands in terms of playoff potential.
It might help to separate this hunk into subgroups:
Contenders playing shootouts: Atlanta, New England, NYG, Oakland, Buffalo
Bad teams with struggling defenses: Miami, Denver, Arizona, St. Louis
Vegas oddsmakers have had big troubles this year posting good totals on the shootout games. Keep an eye on that as the weather starts to turn. You don't want to be betting Overs when the wind starts to swirl. You don't want to pass up free money in all the games with totals of 48-52 that are landing in the 60's either.
We'll check in again on this stat through the course of the NFL season. The lack of NBA games in November may open up a few extra days for pro football stathead stuff like this. We're excited about the start of college hoops very soon on the calendar, that's for sure. This is a great time to call the office for complete details about all of our sports packages. The NETWORK number is 1-800-323-4453.
Game day releases are always available for credit card purchase right here at the website. Don't forget that we have games every night this week!
TONIGHT: Troy at Florida International in the Sun Belt (better than you're average Tuesday or Wednesday nighter!)
WEDNESDAY: Connecticut at Pittsburgh in the Big East, and Game Six of the World Series with Texas at St. Louis.
THURSDAY: Virginia at Miami of Florida in the ACC, and Rice at Houston in a city rivalry game in Conference USA. If the World Series goes to a dramatic seventh game, it will be played tonight as well.
FRIDAY: BYU at TCU as a former Mountain West team visits a future Big 12 team
Then we're back to the monster schedules through the weekend as October gets ready to hand off to November on the sports calendar.
Whatever the day…whatever the sport…whatever the handicapping challenge…big money awaits when you call JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK!