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NFL Preseason: Offenses are Playing Well

   by Scott Spreitzer - 08/22/2005

This has been an interesting preseason for a variety of reasons. Normally, defenses are ahead of the offense the first two weeks of August football. Coaches (other than Jim Haslett) aren't inclined to go with their starters much, so game plans feature three of four different quarterbacks and vanilla offense.

However, this exhibition season has been a bit different. Preseason totals are lower, on average, than regular season numbers because oddsmakers are anticipating more bland offenses and less scoring. But notice that this preseason there have been 18 "overs," 14 "unders" and one "push." That's fairly good balance, or course, which is what oddsmakers like. However, if you've been watching the games there have been fewer "vanilla" game plans in 2005 than normal.

One reason is that several teams have had interesting quarterback competition. QB Joey Harrington in Detroit hasn't had much pressure to produce….until this season, with the arrival of veteran Jeff Garcia breathing down his neck. Garcia has admitted that he's a competitor and is going to be playing to try and get the No. 1 job.

In Arizona, the Cardinals rotating QB problems of last year are gone with Kurt Warner playing well and solidifying the starter's role. Miami again has a competitive battle between two potential starters, and the 49ers appear committed to No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith, though Tim Rattay is hot on the rookie's tail. All of these teams have better options at QB than a year ago. Also, a couple of rookie QBs from a year ago, Eli Manning and Phillip Rivers, have a year under their belt and are better. Manning is the starter in New York, while Rivers is gaining experience as a backup, providing the Chargers with better QB depth.

In addition, the offenses have been aided by new offensive coordinators. Aggressive attacks in Oakland, Kansas City, Indianapolis and St. Louis are nothing new, but the Chicago Bears have a completely revamped offense. New coordinator Ron Turner has jumpstarted the offense with an aggressive, modified West Coast attack that looks to stretch the field with medium and long passes. The Bears are 2-1 over the total, scoring 24 and 27 points in two games. They got shut down by the Rams in the other game, namely because they lost starter Rex Grossman. Overall, the Bears are a very different team offensively than last season.

Finally, the Colts, Rams and Chiefs still have defensive problems and their games have been high scoring, and the Patriots have surprisingly struggled, especially against the run, with a lot of new defensive personnel. Sunday's game between the Chargers and Rams seemed to exemplify everything I just mentioned. The Rams still can't stop the run, and the Chargers have better QB depth and a balanced offense. All of those things were on display in the Chargers 36-21 rout – a game that sailed "over" the total with 41 points scored in the first half alone!

In this past weekend's slate of games, notice that 14 games had at least one team scoring in the first quarter, while only one game featured a 0-0 first quarter. With improved offenses, teams are scoring a bit earlier, which forces the opponent not to "play it conservative" but to open up the playbook, wing it down the field and try and get back in the game. All in all, there’s been more offense this exhibition season than usual.

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