Predicting the Top 5 defenses this season

Is the Rams defense the best in the NFL?

By: Adam Hulse (@AdamHulseSports)

The 2021 NFL season is now less than a week away. The preseason has been completed and rosters are being finalized as teams prepare for week 1 of the regular season. Now is as good a time as any to start projecting how each team will perform this year. In particular for this article, let’s predict who the top five defenses in the NFL can be this season, counting down from 5th place and continuing all the way to the number one spot.

5. Buffalo Bills

The Bills were an average defense last year, ranking 14th in yards allowed per game with 352.5 and 16th in scoring with 23.4 points per game allowed. What’s encouraging is that they played much better defensively late in the season than they did earlier. For example, in their final six regular-season games following their bye week, they held four of their six opponents to under 20 points and then also held the Ravens to just three points in a playoff game. That gives reason for optimism heading into the 2021 NFL season, especially because head coach Sean McDermott is defensively focused. In addition, they addressed their lack of “true pass rushers” in the NFL Draft this year with first round pick Greg Rousseau and second round pick Boogie Basham. With the improved pass rush and renewed focus on defense, the Bills can get back to playing like they did in 2019 when they ranked 2nd in scoring defense at 16.2 points per game and 3rd in total defense at 298.3 yards per game.

4. San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers suffered an extreme amount of injuries in the 2020 NFL season, including their top two pass rushers in Nick Bosa and Dee Ford. Despite the fact that neither of them played much at all, in addition to all of the other injuries as well, they still managed to finish ranked 5th in total defense at 314.4 yards allowed per game. They only recorded 30 team sacks in 2020 but that number should greatly improve with their overall health, as demonstrated by their 48 team sacks in the 2019 NFL season. Lead by superstar linebacker Fred Warner, the 49ers should have another great year defensively, even without Robert Saleh as the defensive coordinator anymore after he accepted the New York Jets head coaching job.

3. Washington Football Team

Last season WFT ranked 2nd in yards allowed per game with 304.6 and 4th in scoring defense with 20.6 points allowed per game. There is good reason to believe that they could be even better this season than they were last season because of the development and progress of their young and dominant front seven. Chase Young and Montez Sweat are already one of the very best EDGE duos in the NFL and should continue to improve as they mature a bit more. The team ranked 6th in sacks last year with 47 and that number will likely go up this season. The front seven was the biggest strength of the team last season but that didn’t stop them from using their first round draft pick on linebacker Jamin Davis out of Kentucky. As long as they can keep this unit together, WFT will have one of the top defenses for many years to come.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers

The center piece to their defense, linebacker Devin Bush, only played in five games last season due to injury but the Steelers still ranked 3rd in both scoring and total defense with 19.5 and 305.8 respectively. They did lose pass rusher Bud Dupree to free agency but replaced him with a very capable veteran in Melvin Ingram. He was plagued by injuries last season, but from 2015 to 2019 he recorded 43 total sacks with the Chargers. He will pair with one of the best EDGE players in the NFL in TJ Watt, whose 15 sacks helped the Steelers lead the league in team sacks last year with a massive 56 total. In just four seasons, Watt has already accumulated 49.5 sacks and 17 forced fumbles. The Steelers have an absolute stud at all three levels of their defense, with Minkah Fitzpatrick on the back end to go with Watt on the EDGE and Bush in the middle.

1. Los Angeles Rams

The Rams were the most dominant defense in the NFL last season. Their 281.9 yards per game allowed was best in the league by a very wide margin of more than 22 yards per game. In addition, they lead the NFL in scoring defense at 18.5 points allowed per game and were second in team sacks with 53 total. They have, arguably, the best cornerback in the entire NFL in Jalen Ramsey and he’s not even their best defensive player. That is, of course, Aaron Donald. He is not only the best defensive player in the NFL but he very well may be the best overall player period. In seven season with Rams he has only missed two games total while accumulating 85.5 sacks, 19 forced fumbles, and 6 recovered fumbles despite being double or triple teamed on every single play. He is the “favorite” to once again win the Defensive Player of the Year award this season, as he should be favored every year. Based on their dominance last season, as long as they have Donald and Ramsey then there is no real reason to believe that they will regress as a defensive unit.

Are the days of ultra aggressive defenses coming to an end?

NFL defenses are getting less aggressive

By: Brady Akins

Dec. 6, 2020. A day in football history that would serve as a death knell for more than one fate.

In a Week 13 meeting between the playoff longshot Las Vegas Raiders and the Super-Ultra-Omega playoff longshot New York Jets, the teams sitting at 6-5 and 0-11, respectively, fans of morbid and cruel sports-related comedy were granted a treat.

With 13 seconds left, the Jets, professional football’s living punchline for the 2020 season, were on the verge of something spectacular– their first win of the year. The Raiders faced a 3rd down and 10 from midfield with no timeouts and a notoriously risk-averse quarterback in Derek Carr, only a miracle could keep New York from coming out on top.

And then… the Jets switched into full-overblown Jets mode.

In a ‘must close our eyes and heave the ball towards the endzone’ type situation for Las Vegas, New York’s defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, a three-decade veteran of the NFL, did what he loves to do– risk it all with an all-out blitz. Rushing eight defenders and dropping just three in pass protection, Carr didn’t need much time at all to find a wide-open Henry Ruggs streaking down the sideline for an easy touchdown as time ticked down. 

In just one play, the New York Jets cemented their legacy as the comedy blockbuster of the season, Head Coach Adam Gase ensured himself a spot on the unemployment line following the season, and Williams, well, he was fired one day later. 

The contrast from situation to play call might be what rang the final bell for Williams, but expecting him not to call a blitz in any situation is like expecting a three-week-old puppy not to pee on the carpet. Williams, who has bounced back and forth between being a defensive coordinator and a head coach in the league since 1997, has developed a reputation for sending pressure more often than not. New York, despite ranking towards the bottom of the NFL in successful quarterback pressures in 2020, actually finished sixth in most blitzes per quarterback dropback.

So, no, anticipating a wild blitz on that game-clinching third down for the Raiders might not be the craziest thing in the known universe. What is a little bit nuts, however, is how now more than ever, NFL teams seem to be freezing out defensive play-callers in the old school mold of Williams, trending toward the side using their aggressive tactics sparingly.

The Last Of A Dying Breed

Williams stands as the most recent example of a defensive coach who loves to gamble getting the boot, less than 24 hours after his biggest defensive misfire as well. However, he isn’t the only one.

Wade Phillips, a 37-year defensive coach of legend who spent his last three seasons with the Los Angeles Rams, was fired in 2019 after three consecutive seasons of the Rams finishing within the top 10 in yards allowed per game. 

Phillips came into the Rams job with a pass-rush happy tendency during his first season in 2017, often bringing the house on early-drive situations, blitzing on 37% of first down passing plays and 44% on second down throws, both top-five marks in the league. 2018, the following season, Phillips reigned in the pressure more than the 2017 standard, blitzing at the league’s 19th lowest rate at 21.1%– when the Rams would finish second in both points and yards allowed per game. In 2019, Phillips’ lowest ranking season as the Rams’ coordinator, Los Angeles dialed up the pressure once more to 28%.

Of course, correlation does not equate to causation. But Phillips’ firing, just one season removed from a year where he finished with the league’s second-best scoring defense, says a lot. When the blitz rate got higher, the Rams’ defensive production lowered as Los Angeles’ got to a breaking point with their defensive coordinator of legend.

Similarly, many of the defenses from 2019 who were among the blitz-heaviest in the league, seemed to have learned some kind of a lesson in 2020. The New England Patriots, for example, ended 2019 with the sixth highest-volume blitz rate in the NFL. In 2020, they plummeted down to 23rd. Same for the Cleveland Browns, who went from fifth in blitz rate all the way to 29th in just a one-year span. 

Those Who Do Blitz

Of course, blitz-happy teams in the league still exist. A few cases of Phillips and Williams-type firings does not negate the trigger-happy defensive style of the Ravens’ Wink Martindale, whose defenses have ranked at the top of the league in blitz rate each of the past three seasons.

Martindale is not alone, either. Todd Bowles, the Buccaneers defensive coordinator, has found success in Tampa Bay with a blitz-heavy approach. Same for Brian Flores in Miami. In fact, three teams in the NFL last year finished with a blitz rate over 40%, with, of course, Baltimore leading the way at 44.1%.

But the same way that Bowles and Flores’ success in the league does not mean that aggressive coordinators are extinct, a few aggressive teams does not mean that the general league isn’t trending away from risking it all with heavy pass-rushes.

In fact, most of the teams who do blitz early and often are only able to do so because of their on-field personnel, and less because of their coaching style. Martindale’s Ravens team has Calais Campbell, an All-Pro defensive end and one of the best players at the position, to help facilitate the high level of aggression. The Steelers, who were third in blitz rate in 2020, did so with the help of TJ Watt and Bud Dupree on the EDGE. And in the case of Bowles’ Buccaneers, a team with three All-Pros and four Pro Bowlers on the defensive front seven, well, it would be a crime not to blitz as much as they do.

But for the blitz-happy teams without the overwhelming personnel talent, it usually ends poorly. The Jets are one example, but the Houston Texans also finished the 2020 season ranked in the top ten in blitz rate, but finished 26th in rate of quarterback pressures, 27th in points allowed per game, and 29th in yards allowed per play.

The San Francisco 49ers are another similar case. Top 10 in blitz rate, middle of the pack in pressure rate. For as much talent as that 49ers’ roster had the start of the season, by years end with an overwhelming amount of injuries, their pass-rush struggled.

In the world of aggressive defenses. Talent, overwhelming, undeniable talent, still has a chance to win out. However, it might be more and more difficult in the football landscape to artificially manufacture a successful blitz without the help of dominant players to facilitate it. And those who try, might no longer have a place in the NFL.

Breaking Down The Different Defensive Schemes In The NFL: 5 Defenses to Know

What are the different defensive schemes and defenses?

Defense wins championships. The NFL is branded and remembered for the star-dusted quarterbacks across the centuries, but the backbone of NFL royalty and Super Bowl victories lies in the strength of defensive bruteness.

The defense has evolved over time and there have unraveled to be several different schemes used in today’s league. The 3-4 scheme is the most common scheme today, while many others are present. What is the history of the 3-4 defense and its true purpose?

Here’s all you need to know about the 3-4 defense and the other strategies that were once seen as more extravagant:

What is a 3-4 Defense?

The 3-4 defensive scheme is the most common design in today’s NFL. There are three down lineman and four linebackers in play. It’s very popular for the looks that the defense can give, in part to the playmaking ability that can transpire from the speed and versatility of the LBs/DL in play.

Lawrence Taylor was a huge beneficiary from the 3-4 defense under Bill Belichick. The Dome Patrol (Saints all-time great LB core) also utilized this scheme to the utmost success. All four LBs were sent to the Pro Bowl in 1992. These LBs were greek gods in themselves, but their schemes helped them appear unblockable (which was true at times).

Matt Bowen of Bleacher Report highlights well of the position criteria of the players wanted to fit the scheme. The OLBs have to be stout pass rushers (one of most sought out positions today), there has to be a Vince Wilfork-like nose guard, and there needs to be an athletic 5 technique that’s lengthy, but also powerful against the opposing guards in pass plays.

Having a player that can translate to 3-4 and 4-3 schemes, or plainly being more versatile in themselves like a JJ Watt, Chandler Jones, or Aaron Donald is becoming more unveiled in today’s NFL. It’s allowing defenses to adjust their schemes and it’s causing fewer and fewer 4-3 defenses to exist.

The 3-4 defense was created by Bud Wilkinson in his tenure at the University of Oklahoma in the 1940s but wasn’t a common theme in the NFL until the 1970s. Now there are many different variances of the 3-4 scheme in the NFL, but the main front shouldn’t go away anytime soon…….. if ever.

What is a 4-3 Defense?

The legendary Tom Landry had his fingerprints all over the 4-3 defensive scheme that would go onto the last seventy-plus years. When Landry was the defensive coordinator of the Giants in 1950, he developed this scheme to shut down the powerhouse Jim Brown.

Four down linemen are involved, in front of three linebackers, with two safeties and two corners structured. It’s the most basic scheme in football, but it’s effective against the run and pass.

The problem with 4-3 defenses is finding great 4-3 defensive ends. Julius Peppers and Demarcus Ware aren’t getting cloned enough around the league. Missing an elite edge player in a 4-3 scheme can neglect a lot of promise around the DE.

The MLB is also crucial in the 4-3 scheme. They are not only the signal-caller, but they are in a great position to make the most plays. As the 4-3 scheme took over early in its origin, NFL offenses game planned to phase out the MLB. Then Tom Landry once again innovated with his 4-3 flex. The DTs would take a step back from the line of scrimmage, so they couldn’t get edged out by blockers. It’s not shown in the NFL today and it sounds like an odd, simple tweak, but Landry ran it to perfection.

As offenses are evolving, defenses have to evolve with it. There aren’t a lot of athletic advantages or complex looks from the 4-3. We’re seeing much fewer 4-3 defenses since the origin of it in the 1950s.

What is a Tampa 2 Defense?

Chuck Knoll and Bud Carson were legends when it came to the Tampa 2 defense. Tony Dungy orchestrated it back into prominence with Warren Sapp in the early 2000s, as well. Then Lovie Smith made it a more common and long-lasting theme in his head coaching days.

In theory, the Tampa 2 defense flexes a 4-3 defensive front. It’s very similar to a Cover 2, where the safeties play halves of the field. The LBs drop into the zone and the corners go into a shallow zone. The exception to the defense is that the MLB drops back into coverage in a Tampa 2.

It’s hard to move the ball short down the field and take a shot deep. But, it’s a challenge to blitz from the Tampa 2 defense and some route combinations can be persistent and successful against the scheme. Yet, having a front seven that can pressure without blitzing, along with gifted linebackers, can unveil to be a consistent and well-ironed nightmare for opposing offenses.

The early 2000s Buccaneers defense had the right talent to fit into this slight eccentric scheme.

What is a 4-6 Defense?

The 1985 Chicago Bears defense was engineered by the 4-6 defensive philosophy. The aim of the defense was to overload offenses and wreak havoc on offenses, particularly this chaos was directed at the quarterback. It was an eight-man box against opposing offenses.

The main damage from it: one linebacker would line up on the TE’s outside shoulder, while another linebacker would be on the inside shoulder of the TE. The LBs could overload and blitz or drop into coverage. Buddy Ryan was a genius at using this design to create a historically talented defense.

In today’s NFL, nobody executes a full-blown 4-6 front, but Buddy Ryan had two sons (Rex, Rob) that used the 4-6 scheme from time to time. Gregg Williams also has incorporated this style of defense against many opponents.

What is a Hybrid Defense?

Bill Belichick has been instrumental in creating a hybrid defense that’s been showcased with his disciples in numerous other systems around the league. Belichick preys on versatile, well-coached players in his scheme to execute the assignment that needs to be done.

His scheme has the ability to switch from a 3-4, to a 4-3, and into dime packages when need be. The whole philosophy behind Belichick’s defense is to phase out the opposing best player. He can then switch the scheme on a week-to-week basis because he has the flexibility in the system to do it. With this strategy, Belichick has often been reluctant to obtaining elite defenders across the board on his defensive unit — with the belief that his scheme is very abstract in a domineering way.

The other main goal with a hybrid defense is that it’s designed to confuse opponents. Ty Schalter of Bleacher Report writes how former defensive coordinator Rob Ryan (son of Buddy Ryan) would often send four, three, and even one defensive line on rushes, while the rest of the defenders would have lanes to fulfill or unexpected areas to drop in coverage.

Positions like outside linebackers have to be able to play defensive end, while nose guards usually have to play three-technique. Being versatile in the base defense is crucial. It’s not all about exotic looks for a large amount of the time. Then when it’s on the big stage or third down, you may see a coach like Belichick send a corner blitzing/or perhaps three down lineman and a safety blitzing while eight guys drop into coverage.

Here is a more in-depth look at Belichick’s brain for his hybrid defense:

Why The Value of a Great Defense Holds True: Buccaneers Super Bowl Proves It

Why NFL Defenses Wins Championships

By: Brady Akins

It’s third down and long, Super Bowl Sunday– the Kansas City Chiefs, Patrick Mahomes, and the rest of their Andy Reid led, superpowered offense face a situation they’ve seen before.

Kansas City found themselves tasked with 194 third-down attempts in the 2020 regular season. They converted on 95 of them, just a shred under a 50% success rate, and the third-highest conversion rate in the league. This probably isn’t much of a surprise to you.

After all, the Chiefs are the epitome of what a modern-day NFL team is supposed to look like. Their 2018 MVP, 2019 Super Bowl champion, and ‘media-appointed messiah’ gunslinger Patrick Mahomes continues to lead the way for the NFL’s second-ranked offense in DVOA, and the league’s top-ranked offense in yards per game. But Mahomes is just the tip of the iceberg.

Kansas City built their team with playmakers at key positions on offense. Their defense? Well, they’re okay. Both Chris Jones and Frank Clark are multiple Pro Bowl players on the defensive line, Tyrann Mathieu is a three-time All-Pro at safety, and everyone else is just about good enough to let the nuclear powered Chiefs offense fully take over games, with headline-grabbing three-time All-Pros Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill helping Mahomes and Reid, their offensive-minded veteran coach, piloting a team that’s looked built to compete for every Super Bowl over the next decade.

So facing third down and long on Super Bowl Sunday, well, it’s nothing to worry about. Not for this Chiefs team, one that’s modeled after an NFL archetype. Offensive minded coach? Check. Lucking into an elite quarterback? Check. Putting the playmakers around him? Yet another check, put that one in Sharpie, too. It’s how elite teams are supposed to be built in 2021– and Kansas City does it better than anyone.

Which is why what happened on Super Bowl Sunday is weird, to say the least. It’s weird that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the champions of Super Bowl LV were able to completely shut down those very same Kansas City Chiefs beyond a shadow of a doubt. It’s weird that Shaquil Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul, Vita Vea, Ndamukong Suh and a host of others in the Buccaneers front-seven were able to generate enough consistent pressure to hold that Kansas City offense to nine total points– the lowest of Mahomes’ career, college or pro.

It’s weird that Tyreek Hill was held to just three catches through three quarters, after exploding for over 200 receiving yards in the first quarter alone when these two teams faced in Week 12 of the regular season. It’s weird that the rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, with 64 yards on nine carries, finished as the offense’s most efficient player. It’s weird, more than anything, that the team that did everything right in roster building for modern football, constructing an offensive masterpiece on paper, was thwarted by a better team in the Buccaneers.

Every week in the NFL is a learning experience– and for recent seasons, the one thing we’ve learned is that elite offense matters above all else. But the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in the most lopsided Super Bowl since 2014, sought to teach the world a lesson that we’ve seem to forget.

An elite defense, a truly special defense, can transcend even the greatest offenses– and matter above all else.

Tampa Bay’s Big Night

Holding an NFL offense, any NFL offense, below 10 points in a game is an incredible feat. 

These are world-class athletes, the best of the best on each roster throughout the league. The New York Jets, the NFL’s lowest-ranked scoring offense, still managed 15.2 points per game. And all but eight teams averaged over three touchdowns a game in 2020. 

Now, holding the Kansas City Chiefs offense below nine points– that’s something else altogether. That’s something that last year’s eighth-ranked scoring defense, the San Francisco 49ers, couldn’t manage one Super Bowl ago– giving up 31 to these very Chiefs. That’s something that’s never happened since Mahomes became a starting quarterback.

Tampa Bay did it, and barely broke a sweat in making the Chiefs’ offense look pedestrian. This wasn’t something the Buccaneers lucked into, or a case of the opposing team shooting themselves in the foot. This was pure, unfiltered obliteration— at every level of the defense.

This was the Buccaneers defensive line controlling a game from start to finish. Super Bowl LV marked just the fifth game in Mahomes’ 18 appearances in 2020 that the quarterback was sacked three times. But it was so much more than that.

This was Shaquil Barret, the Buccaneers superstar pass-rusher and the league’s leader in total quarterback pressures, hitting a season-high in that metric with eight on just 41 pass-rush reps, for a 19.5% success rate. Even crazier, Barret wasn’t alone. Five players on the Tampa Bay defense recorded a quarterback hit, and the team as a whole recorded 29 hurries on Mahomes’ 56 dropbacks. Even crazier, Tampa Bay did all of this while abandoning their blitz-happy identity, rushing more than four players on just 9.6% of their defensive snaps– leaving plenty of players in coverage, forcing Mahomes to hold the ball, and giving him no other choice but to run for his life to keep plays alive.

This was Lavonte David, the Buccaneers’ unheralded star off-ball linebacker, playing at the All-Pro level he’s played his entire career– but without the recognition, and just one nod to an All-Pro team in 2013. In just one of David’s nine seasons as a pro has he recorded under 100 tackles. In just one season has he recorded fewer than 10 tackles for loss. In the Super Bowl, tasked with keeping Travis Kelce contained, David played like the steady star he’s always been. Don’t let the 10 catches fool you– they’re empty calories. The tight end recorded just one catch in the first quarter, and did most of his damage on one up-tempo drive that ended with four catches– and just three points for the offense.

This was Devin White– a second-year player at the same position as Lavonte David, who has made an equal impact on the Tampa Bay defense. White hasn’t recorded so much as a Pro Bowl yet in his career, but he earned that ‘Super Bowl Champion’ next to his name in a season that came with 15 tackles for loss and nine sacks. White led the Buccaneers in tackles in that Super Bowl win, doubling the total of the next closest player on the team.

This was Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean, Jordan Whitehead and the rookie Antoine Winfield Jr. doing exactly what they needed to do against one of the toughest tasks in football– containing the Kansas City Chiefs pass-catchers. Those three catches for Tyreek Hill in three quarters weren’t a mistake, they were a product of spectacular defensive play. Nor were those 29 quarterback hurries a product of just the Buccaneers’ defensive line. Kansas City’s fastball is their deep-pass game, which thrives through the production of Hill– who was shut down with the Buccaneers’ two-high safety scheme, which they ran on 87% of their plays, holding Mahomes without a completed pass of 20 or more air yards. Credit Whitehead and Winfield for that. The Chiefs’ other pass catchers, Mecole Hardman, Byron Pringle, Sammy Watkins and Demarcus Robinson, were held to a combined five catches for 31 yards. Credit Davis and Dean for that.

This was Todd Bowles, the defensive coordinator behind the scenes, pulling every perfect string at the exact right moment to make this defensive performance one for the ages. Tampa Bay ranked sixth in yards allowed per game in 2020, and eighth in points allowed per game. They played above that station in the Super Bowl, against, once again, the Kansas City Chiefs’ All-Pro riddled offense.

This was a message. Drafted by Bowles, co-signed by every player and every position coach that touched the Tampa Bay defense in 2020. They are an elite unit. Loaded with elite players at every level contributing to elite production and basking in their shared eliteness. They just beat the reigning Super Bowl Champions with ease– and they did it through the forgotten art of the smothering defense, that year upon year becomes less of a priority for NFL franchises. 

Let this be a lesson for Kansas City, and teams across the league. If you want to bring home a Lombardi, you can’t forget about the defense.

Trying to Outscore the Unscorable

You can’t out-Chiefs the Chiefs, and you can’t win Super Bowls by trying.

What you can do, however counterintuitive to the modern-day NFL it might seem, is build a roster designed specifically to counter the high-flying, point-scoring priorities. You can build a roster that doesn’t so much try to one-up the Chiefs, but shut down their game entirely.

None of that is to say that Tampa Bay is the anti-Chiefs. From Mike Evans and Chris Godwin to the greatest football player in the history of the universe under center, the Buccaneers’ offense still comes close to matching what Kansas City has. Rather, this is to say that, rather than attempting to shy away from the daunting challenge of stopping the Chiefs’ explosive offense– Tampa Bay approached it head-on, and assembled a defense that should serve as a model for the rest of the NFL.

The Denver Broncos attempted to out-Chiefs the Chiefs. In the 2020 Draft, their franchise went all-in on assembling a roster equipped to outscore Kansas City– beating them at their own game. They invested in their young stars like Noah Fant and Courtland Sutton, and their hopeful potential star quarterback Drew Lock, by using their first two draft picks on two wide receivers. But in 2020, Denver failed in their effort of out-Chiefsing.

The Cincinnati Bengals attempted to out-Chiefs the Chiefs. Their franchise jumped on a bandwagon two seasons ago sparked by the hiring of Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay– but one that had been around long before McVay. Hiring the young position coach or coordinator who had the closest proximity to an effective offense, and investing heavily in offense during the 2020 Draft, despite having one of the lowest-ranked defenses in the league the season before. Cincinnati too, failed in their hail mary of out-Chiefsing.

The cold reality of the league is that, try as you want, but out-offensing Kansas City is a fool’s errand. You might find a cast of stars to build an offense around, but you won’t find another Patrick Mahomes. You won’t find another Andy Reid. That has yet to stop coaches and general managers from trying, however. Kliff Kingsbury was hired as an NFL head coach, less than a year after being fired from Texas Tech, specifically because he possessed promise, not as a head coach, but as an offensive innovator. 

In the midst of all of it, the simple act of building up a defense has become something of a lost art. Although, not completely forgotten. A team like the Los Angeles Rams stand as examples of that value. One year after missing the playoffs with the 11th ranked scoring offense, and the seventh-ranked group in total yards, the Rams improved their record, made it back to the postseason, and earned a win in the Wild Card round against the NFC West champion Seattle Seahawks with the league’s top-ranked defense in yards and points allowed per game. Their offense, meanwhile, finished 22nd in points scored per game– 11 spots behind where they were last year.

And of course, there’s the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Who just won a Super Bowl by doing what many teams have given up on even attempting to pull off– stopping the Kansas City offense. It wasn’t just the Chiefs, either. Tampa Bay’s opponent in the NFC Championship, the Green Bay Packers, were held to just 26 points– just the fifth time in 18 games they were held below 30. A week earlier, the New Orleans Saints were shut down to 20 points, their lowest scoring total of the season.

The Buccaneers defense didn’t just show up on the biggest stage, they led the way throughout the playoffs. They were the driving force behind Tampa Bay’s success, and they did it while facing two talented offenses in the Saints and Packers, and put an exclamation point on their statement by not allowing the most explosive offense in the league to find the endzone once.

Defense still matters in the league. Don’t forget that as the NFL continues down a path of paying top-dollar for offensive superstars while building up the defensive side of the ball to simply the realm of “good enough.” 

Elite defense, like the one that the Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers have assembled, still matters.

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