1 Simple Defensive Change Is the Reason Most NFL Teams Stink This Season
We are now 1/3 of the way through the 2022 NFL season. Through Week 6, “parity” has taken over the NFL. In the AFC, only six out of 16 teams have a winning record. In the NFC, it’s even worse. Just four teams are over .500, and three of them are in the NFC East. While some (including the league) want to deem this “parity,” NFL fans know the truth. Most NFL teams just stink this season.
Why do most NFL teams stink this season? There are several running theories. One is that the old golden generation of quarterbacks is over the hill while the new generation isn’t quite ready for primetime. Another theory is that analytics are running the game and leading to horrible coaching decisions.
While both these theories have some truth, the real answer is that most NFL teams stink this season because defenses have made a simple tweak requiring offenses to have an excellent play-caller and a mistake-free quarterback to succeed. And most teams — even if they have one or the other — don’t have both.
The simple defensive change that is killing NFL teams
From 2012 to 2020, the average passing yards per game has been over 230 yards — and often over 240 yards — as teams have developed more pass-heavy offenses in the last decade. In 2021, that number dropped to the lowest since 2010 at 228.3 passing yards per game, per Pro Football Reference.
This year it’s down to 225.0 yards through Week 6.
One of the big reasons for this is that defenses are playing a ton of two-deep safety defenses. That’s where a team’s two safeties play deeper down the field, keeping everything in front of them.
This versatile defensive scheme takes away the deep ball while allowing short passes and running plays. The rest of the defense can play man or zone underneath the two-deep, and coordinators can even do some light blitzing, but overall, this is the classic definition of “bend but don’t break” defense.
From an offensive perspective, playing against two deep safeties requires patience and precision. Teams must run the ball regularly and send receivers on futile deep routes to push the safeties back while hitting the underneath routes.
The popularity of two deep safeties in 2022 is such a simple change, but it’s caused massive problems for quarterbacks and offensive coordinators.
Most NFL teams have issues at quarterback or play-caller
The way to beat two deep safeties is to take what the defense gives you. Offenses have to run the ball for four yards a clip and throw the ball short of the sticks to methodically march down the field.
And when an offense does get into the red zone after facing a conservative defense for double-digit plays and 50-plus yards, the defensive coordinators take the gloves off. In the shadow of the goal line, DCs can use the back of the end zone as their deep safeties and start dialing up exotic blitzes.
All this requires a smart and patient play-caller and an incredibly talented or mistake-free quarterback.
To be able to dink and dunk and handoff all the way down the field and then get creative and aggressive in the final 20 yards is an incredibly tough needle to thread. The reason so many NFL teams stink this season is that most teams have a QB or an OC who messes this up at some point on the drive.
All it takes is the OC to call three bad plays in a row or the QB to get antsy and try to force one downfield. When that happens, the drive ends in a punt, a missed 4th-down conversion, or a turnover. It’s why scoring is down in 2022 to 21.6 points per game from 23.0 in 2021 and 24.8 in 2020.
And it’s why there are only a few “good” teams in the NFL this season.
Why the Bills, Chiefs, and Eagles are good in 2022
The upper echelon of NFL teams has never been smaller than after Week 6 of 2022. You can make an argument that only the Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs, and the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles are truly elite. After that, there’s the New York Giants, New York Jets, Tennessee Titans, Minnesota Vikings, and Dallas Cowboys that over .500 and make up the second tier.
Technically, the Indianapolis Colts are over .500 as well, and so are the Los Angeles Chargers. But the Colts are only there because of a tie, and the Chargers just played one of the worst games of the NFL season on Monday night vs. the Denver Broncos, so they’re out of the tier.
These teams all have at least two (and usually more) of the following things that offenses need to beat two-deep coverages:
- A. An uber-talented QB
- B. A QB that minimizes mistakes
- C. A running QB
- D. An excellent offensive play-caller
- E. A strong running game and commitment to the run
- F. An uber-talented running back
How do the top two tiers grade out here?
- The Chiefs and Bills have A-D
- The Eagles have B-D
- The Giants have B-F
- The Jets C-E (and maybe F with Breece Hall)
- The Vikings have B (this year), and D-F
- The Titans have B, E, and F
- The Cowboys with Cooper Rush (mostly) had B, D, E, and two Fs.
The two deep safeties setup has become so successful that it’s here to stay. Now the rest of the NFL teams have to figure out how to counter it with their own versions of A-F above or continue to stink.
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