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Identifying Lazy or Disciplined Defenses

   by Scott Spreitzer - 08/18/2004

We all know that defense wins championships. A good defense is made up of a combination of three things: Talent, effort and adjustments. Talent is provided by the general manager through the draft and free agency. Effort is simply hard work, usually requiring a great coach to provide discipline and motivation, such as Bill Parcels, Jeff Fisher or Bill Belichick. Adjustments are made during the week by coaches when watching game films of upcoming opponents and devising schemes, and even during a game or at halftime.

Tampa Bay had the perfect collection of all three two years ago on their way to the Super Bowl title. They had a talented collection of speedy, intelligent defensive players who had developed under Tony Dungy. With the aid of Monte Kiffin and new coach Jon Gruden, the Bucs' players and coaches were supremely motivated that season to throw off the "second banana" label that had dogged them. Together, they were one fierce defense and went 11-7 under the total, including 6-3 under at home.

A great coach is able to get the most out of his players, but that can take time, too. In Belichick's first season in New England, the Patriots went 5-11. It was in his second season that the defense began to gel as he helped lead the Pats to the Super Bowl. Last year's team was another fierce, motivated defensive team that allowed a remarkable 9.6 points per game at home! The Pats went under the total 70% of the time at home (7-3). And, they helped themselves in the draft, too, with DT Vince Wilfork and Marquise Hill, so don't look for the defense to regress, as it did in 2002.

With that in mind, it will be interesting to observe the Bengals this fall. Marvin Lewis has a long resume of being a standout defensive coach. Cincinnati overachieved in his inaugural season, though it was the offense under QB Jon Kitna, more than the defense, that really carried the Bengals.

It often takes at least a year for defensive players to begin to fully grasp the schemes of a new coaching staff. Perhaps the Bengals defense will show considerable improvement. Also, second-year quarterback Carson Palmer is being nudged forward by Lewis to replace Kitna. Perhaps the Bengals won't be as strong offensively with the "Heisman kid" stepping in, as he didn't throw a pass last season. A better defense and an offense that may slip means keeping an eye on the Bengals as a potential under team.

The New York Giants were go-against money-makers last season, at 3-12 against the spread, with a lazy defense and a dysfunctional offense. However, new coach Tom Coughlin, a former military man, knows all about hard work and discipline. The Giants won't be as lazy and unmotivated under the hard driving disciplinarian, so don't circle them as an easy go-against this fall.

Speaking of new coaches, the Chicago Bears have a new head man in Lovie Smith, the former defensive coordinator of the Rams. Smith has a terrific defensive reputation, having also worked at Tampa Bay under Dungy. The
Bears focused more on defensive players than offensive in the early rounds of the draft.

They're still searching for a quarterback and it appears Smith is focused first on building a great defense. The Bears appear to be a team to look at as one that might go under the total more often than over. By the way, the Bears were 6-2 SU/ATS at home last season, but 1-7 SU, 2-6 ATS on the road.

Now that Lovie Smith has moved on, what will happen to the St. Louis Rams defense? Larry Marmie takes over running the 'D'. What stands out about the high-octane Rams is that they are 21-12 over the total at home the last four seasons. The artificial turf aids the speed of Mike Martz's offense, and even with Smith the Rams went 6-3 and 5-3 over the total at home the last two seasons.

The Detroit Lions loaded up on offensive players in the off-season, bringing in free agent center Damien Woody and drafting Texas speedster WR Roy Williams and RB Kevin Jones. After drafting WR Charles Rogers last season, it's clear coach Steve Mariucci - no fan of conservative football - wants to build a strong offense first to attract a bigger fan base. It's also clear Mariucci paid little attention to defense, as Detroit finished 25th in scoring and 23rd in overall 'D'. If they get consistent quarterback play, the Lions, like the Rams, could soon be a team with the potential to go over the total more often than not, especially at home.

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