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Are the Defenses Ahead of the Offenses?

   by Jim Feist - 09/13/2010

You have to remember that in September it's more likely that defenses are ahead of the offenses in pro and college football. This might not seem the case when you watch Virginia Tech and Boise put on an exciting 33-30 shootout. However, that's not the norm, either.
The defenses are more ahead of the offenses than you might think. New Kansas coach Turner Gill wouldn't argue with that, after watching his young offense stuck in first gear the whole game, a stunning 6-3 home loss to North Dakota State. Notre Dame brought aboard Coach Brian Kelly, who ran exciting no-huddle offenses at Central Michigan and Cincinnati. But the opener was no offensive show, a 23-12 victory over Purdue as both offense was less than spectacular.
Another Kelly comes to mind a year ago, you may recall, when a high-powered Oregon offense under first-year coach Chip Kelly laid an egg at Boise, getting 8 points and 152 total yards. Kelly had been running wide-open offenses there which was a reason he got the job when Mike Belloti moved up to the AD's office.
That certainly wasn't what he had in mind for an opener. Oregon managed just 14 yards in the first half and was forced to wait until the third quarter to record its initial first down. By mid-season, though, the Ducks were clicking on all cylinders offensively.
Think back one year ago to the first week of the NFL season. The unders went 9-7, with normally powerhouses offenses like the Colts getting 14 points, the Bengals 7 and the Texans 7. Houston would end the 2009 season as the No. 1 ranked passing offense.
Think back to the 2008 opening week, when the high powered offenses of the Saints, Colts and Patriots combined for 24, 13 and 17 points in Week 1. Granted, the Patriots lost QB Tom Brady that game, but Drew Brees and the Saints wouldn't have that low a scoring game again until Week 7, while the Colts were totally out of sync offensively.
Go back to the opening of the 2007 NFL season and the unders ruled by a whopping 11-5 edge. In 2006 the under were 11-5 in the first NFL week. Quarterbacks need to develop timing with receivers, and offensive linemen have to learn to mesh on blocking schemes and pocket protection. All of that takes time, patience and practice. As we know, preseason doesn't offer much time to practice as coaches are more concerned with keeping starters healthy than getting the offense finely tuned.
All of which makes another interesting year for sports bettors who play totals. Will the defenses be ahead of the offenses in September and early October? That is often the case, as it takes far more time and practice to get execution down between offensive players.
Notice that in 2006 after going 11-5 under in Week 1, the overs had a slight edge of 25-19-1 in Weeks 3-4. Part of it is that oddsmakers adjust their lines based on what happened the previous week, but also offenses begin to mesh together better after Week 1. Another factor to keep in mind is that the NFL changed the rules a few years to aid the offense, outlawing the “horse collar tackle.” Essentially was when a defensive player tackled the ball carrier by grabbing his shoulders, which is no longer legal. The league also has enforced the five-yard rule, which was designed to help wide receivers get downfield faster, as opposed to being mugged at the line of scrimmage by linebackers and defensive backs. A defensive player can still bump the wide outs when the ball is snapped, but has to be careful not to after the offensive player advances five-yards past the line of scrimmage, otherwise a penalty will be called. It is not easy being a defensive player in the pros anymore!
Passing yardage and scoring did increase during the 2004 season when those rules were enforced. In fact, during that season the unders were 43-27 the first five weeks of the season, but the overs were 92-71 from weeks 7-17.
It was also interesting that three offensive coordinators got axed in August before a single regular season game had been played. Who says there's not pressure to produce offensively, even in preseason?
So keep a close tab on yardage and totals in September and early October. Scoring and unders can rule early in the season, but that can change when the offenses begin to get more in sync.

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