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Are the Defenses Ahead of the Offenses?

   by Jim Feist - 09/18/2012

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 Tennessee bomb NC State 35-21 and Notre Dame crush Navy, 50-10, in the first week. However, that's not the norm, either.
The defenses are more ahead of the offenses than you might think. Washington, for instance, has an explosive offense, led by junior QB Keith Price (33 TD, 11 INTs in 2011) for Coach Steve Sarakasian, one that averaged 40.8 points, 231.6 yards passing and 208.6 yards rushing. Yet, in the opener the offense was out of sync in an unimpressive 21-12 win over San Diego State.
Steve Spurrier's high-flying passing attack at South Carolina? Well, they didn't start the new season finding the end zone much in a 17-13 win over Vanderbilt, failing to cover as both teams had less than 277 yards of offense. "Maybe it's good for us," Spurrier said. "You look at the preseason press, we thought we were hot stuff. Then we almost got that stuff beat out of us."
Historically offenses can start slower than you might expect in September football. It's far more difficult to organize an offense and get it running in tip-top shape than it is to get a defense up to speed. Offense requires timing with a quarterback and his receivers and tight ends, while offensive linemen have to work hard in practice to develop chemistry and blocking assignments correctly. All of that takes an enormous amount of time, patience, practice and teaching skills from coaches.
Defense is a little different, with much simpler playbooks. Think about what happened when Notre Dame brought aboard Coach Brian Kelly three years ago, who ran exciting no-huddle offenses at Central Michigan and Cincinnati. The opener was no offensive show, a 23-12 Irish 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 then first-year coach Chip Kelly laid an egg at Boise, getting 8 points and 152 total yards. Kelly had been running wide-open offenses as the coordinator which was a reason he got the job when Mike Belloti moved up to the AD's office. Eventually the offenses clicked, but not right out of the September gate.
NFL offenses will be interesting to watch in September because of all the rookie quarterbacks put in as starters (Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, RG3) and second-year players such as Jake Locker and Cam Newton. There is a lot of hype with those guys, but as Steve Spurrier noted, hype can be off the mark.
Notice that in college Stanford has had to replace Luck, going with QB Josh Nunes, who threw for 125 yards in an uninspiring 20-17 win over San Jose State. Uninspiring for the offense, that is. "We were close to doing a lot of really good things," Nunes said. "But close doesn't always win football games." Stanford had beaten San Jose State 57-3 last year behind Luck.
In the NFL offenses busted out in 2007 and the last few years with many record setting performances. Yet, go back to the opening week of the 2007 NFL season and the unders ruled by a whopping 11-5 edge. In 2006 the unders were 11-5 in the first NFL week. In 2008 the high powered offenses of the Saints, Colts and Patriots combined for 24, 13 and 17 points in Week 1 and in 2010 the unders went 9-7, with expected powerhouse offenses like the Colts getting 14 points, the Bengals 7 and the Texans 7.
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,” bringing in the “Brady rule” to prevent QBs from getting hurt, and enforcing 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!
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? 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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