Defense, defense, wherefore art thou defense?

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So, one game had a team play a full four quarters of defense. And it was Kentucky. Kentucky.

If you were sitting on your couch or La-Z-Boy, you certainly weren’t going to doze off Saturday. I tried. My eyelids were heavy, but they just wouldn’t shut. There was too much going on. My remote finger is sore. Touchdowns were being scored on different channels by the second.

If you are a defensive coordinator you would have rather been on your couch or La-Z-Boy. After watching offenses race up and down the field, you probably looked a little like this.

Every sport seems to be trending to bigger, showier offense. Golfers are hitting drives a country mile. Baseball is all about the long ball. Basketball players are pulling up from 30 on a regular basis. Ironically, hockey is growing in popularity despite the fact defense is still valued in that sport.

Football hasn’t had a popularity deficiency in quite some time, so style of play isn’t really an issue. The style of the day is certainly a wide open, high flying, tackling optional score fest.

So why the lack of defense?

There are still a lot of excellent defensive players across the country, but is there enough depth?

There are many creative minds calling the offenses in college football. With all of the different sets, offenses constantly have defenses on their heels. It’s rare that a defense gets to play downhill these days. Speed kills, and everyone seems to have an overflow of speed.

Watching teams score tons of points is fun. Watching teams tackle as if they are playing touch football is not fun. Watching receivers running free through the middle of the field, without a defender within shouting distance is not fun.

Are the offensive coordinators that much smarter than the defensive coordinators?

Tackling is at an all time low. Bad form. Bad angles. Bad coaching.

Coverage skills are getting weaker. Lack of football IQ. Lack of understanding. Lack of coaching.

The rules certainly favor offenses. Defensive backs have very few weapons that are considered legal. Having said that, I have seen more offensive pass interference calls this year than ever before. So maybe the officials are tilting the playing field just a bit.

Regardless of all that was said above, receivers, backs, and tight ends should not be running completely free. This isn’t even about cornerbacks giving too big of a cushion to receivers. Defenders are flat out getting lost in coverage, leaving the offensive players completely uncovered.

Do you think quarterbacks from the ‘70’s, ‘80’s, and ‘90’s would like to be playing now?

This has become a real life version of video game football.

Everyone seems to like this style. However, wouldn’t it be nice to see a little defense being played? Apparently Kentucky thought so—at least for this week.

This kind of defense—or lack of—used to be reserved for the Pac-12 and Big 12. The Pac-12 hasn’t even started yet, so these numbers could get even worse. It wasn’t surprising to see Oklahoma—who never plays any defense—and Texas have a shootout. But check out the SEC. LSU gave up 45 points. Missouri gave up 41 points. Tennessee gave up 44 points. Florida gave up 41 points. Texas A&M gave up 38 points. Mississippi gave up 63 points. And saving the most shocking for last, Alabama gave up 48 points and well over 600 yards of offense. This is no longer a Pac-12/Big 12 problem. It’s an every conference problem.

Playing defense might just give you the edge in a season of video game like football. Clemson, and for the most part, Georgia have been playing solid defense. Of course, Clemson hasn’t really played anyone yet. Will Ohio State or Penn State play a little defense when they join the fray? How about USC or Oregon out West?

Will defense win you a championship, or will this simply become a year where whoever has the ball last wins?

Defense, wherefore art thou?

Two Cent Takes

College Football

~Pitt must rid themselves of Pat Narduzzi. The Panthers are headed to their usual finish under the current head coach. They are who they are, a team you lump in with the NC States, Boston Colleges, and Louisvilles of the world. Middle of the pack…in the weak ACC. The Pitt people like to think they are on the rise, but in actuality they are stuck in neutral.

~Miami is NOT back. They found a one year answer at quarterback, and even that wasn’t close to good enough to compete with Clemson. The U stands for underwhelming.

~North Carolina is getting close. Another couple Mack Brown recruiting years and they may be ready for big boy football.

~Ed Orgeron went from the coaching outhouse to the penthouse last season. It may be back to the outhouse this year. People never forget his stint at Mississippi, so it won’t take long for last year’s national darling to feel his seat get warm. Look, he lost a ton of players to graduation and nobody was hit harder by opt outs than LSU. Certainly, though, it would be advantageous for his defense to stop somebody…anybody.

~Mike Leach was warm, fuzzy, and affable after week one. The real Mike Leach has stepped forward the last two weeks. Last week it was poo-pooing the wearing of a mask on the sidelines. This week, after an embarrassing performance, he said maybe he would have to purge the roster. If you have followed him over his career, rarely is it his fault for a bad performance. His act may grow tired in a hurry down in Starkville.

~Lane Kiffin won early at Tennessee. Kiffin won early at USC, even with 20 less scholarship players available. Kiffin won early at Florida Atlantic. Kiffin is trying to win early at Mississippi, despite having no defense to speak of. As I said last week, this guy is the best cartoon character going today. But he has matured as a coach. He has learned to laugh at himself. I, for one, hope he finds a sweet spot. College football is more fun with Lane Kiffin in the spotlight.

~This play cost Arkansas a second straight upset SEC win.

Unacceptable, especially with replay.

~Tom Herman should feel uncomfortable right now. Texas typically doesn’t give you a lot of extra time to prove yourself. If that holds true, Herman is on borrowed time.

~Oklahoma isn’t very good this year. The defense still stinks, but the difference is there is no Heisman quarterback to bail them out.

~The two best coaches in the Big 12 conference are Matt Campbell at Iowa State and Chris Klienman at Kansas State. Winning with less isn’t easy. These two do it as well as anyone.

MLB

~Nothing warms the cockles more than watching Adrolis Chapman lose a crucial game for the Yankees. Tampa Bay eliminated the Yankees on an eighth inning home run from Mike Brossesu. Earlier this season, Brossesu was the latest guy Chapman threw 101 right at his head . Chapman is an animal, so every baseball fan this side of the Bronx should have delighted. Brossesu said it wasn’t about revenge, but his sprint/celebration around the bases said otherwise.

~Pirates fans were made to feel even worse than they did during the 19 win debacle of a season. They tuned in Friday night to see Gerrit Cole versus Tyler Glasnow in the deciding ALDS game. Not enough? Austin Meadows hit a crucial home run off Cole, and Charlie Morton was ready in the bullpen for the ninth inning. The Fighting Nuttings underdeveloped, mismanaged, and traded away for nothing all of the aforementioned players. Eh, winning is so overrated.

NFL

Steelers vs Eagles

~With the injury to Dak Prescott, the NFC East is still open for business. The Eagles showed some heart in Pittsburgh on Sunday. Carson Wentz was throwing to guys he probably just met. Some guy named Travis Fulgham lit up the Steelers. It’s a real possibility that 8-8 wins the NFC East, and the Eagles feel like a .500 team.

~JJ Arcega-Whiteside finally caught a ball for the Eagles, his first of the season. What a huge disappointment this guy has been.

~The Pittsburgh Steelers have secondary issues. There are a lot of receivers running free through the Steelers secondary. Minkah Fitzpatrick has been MIA. When the rush doesn’t get to the opposing quarterback, the Steelers are very vulnerable.

~Ben Roethlisberger is reinventing himself as a quarterback, with the help of the new play calling taking place. He used to thrive in extending plays and making throws on the run. Those days are largely over. Now he is perfecting the quick release, short passing game. He takes the occasional shot downfield, but those shots are becoming rare.

~The Steelers really know how to draft wide receivers. Chase Claypool is the latest example. All he did was score four times on Sunday. Claypool was one of two receivers I had targeted in my Draft preview column. The other was Michael Pittman, who was taken by the Colts. Pittman is on IR, so it’s safe to say the Steelers got the correct one. His presence will allow the Steelers to let JuJu Smith-Schuster walk after this season.

~The Steelers are 4-0 for the first time since 1979. The last two times they were 4-0, the Steelers won the Super Bowl.

~The officiating was atrocious in this game. The outcome of the game was nearly affected by a couple of these calls. This just has to approve. I wrote about this topic on several occasions last year.

AFC East

~You just know that Bill Belichick will use these COVID-19 reschedulings to his advantage. Some how, some way, you just know he will.

~Joe Flacco and the Jets are a perfect match.

~Miami is dangerous for a 2-3 team. They could potentially go 5-2 in their next 7 games.

AFC North

~Baltimore is still the team to beat in this division. They are just more consistent than the rest. I’m still not sold on Lamar Jackson.

~Cleveland is taking advantage of their schedule. We will see how good they are this week in Pittsburgh, against another team that has taken advantage of their schedule.

AFC South

~Philip Rivers is 38 years old. He looks like he is 138. He is preventing the Colts from being better. In addition the a Colts have my accountant on the roster.

~The Texans fired the volatile Bill O’Brien—I’ve been calling for it since the end of last year—and they finally win. I don’t think O’Brien will get hired right away. I suggested that JJ Watt’s body language looked bad, and sure enough it was reported that he blew up on O’Brien in practice. Players talk; coaches walk.

~The Tennessee Titans are suddenly public enemy number one, and rightfully so. Their indifference to the COVID protocols has thrown the NFL schedule into flux. The NFL is essentially punishing teams who ARE following the rules by messing with their schedules.

AFC West

~The Chiefs have shown some dents. The defending champs have alternated between impressive wins and ho-hum wins. This week it was a less than ho-hum loss. The defense can be had.

~Vegas, baby, Vegas. You were warned weeks ago. Josh Jacobs is a star in the making.

NFC East

~I’ve hated the Cowboys my whole life, but nobody could possibly like what happened to Dak Prescott. Prescott’s foot was turned the wrong way after getting caught beneath bodies. Tough break for a guy who could use a good break.

~Andy Dalton was signed for just this reason. He gives the Cowboys a competent veteran to fill in. Just don’t expect much from Big Red.

~Block off some time for Sunday. Washington vs NY Giants. Should be must see TV.

NFC North

~Chicago is 4-1. That is all.

~Minnesota is the best 1-4 team in the NFL. What a blunder Sunday night not kicking a field goal to go up by 8. The second they missed on fourth down, the Vikings were in big trouble.

NFC South

~Dan Quinn will not coach another game for the Atlanta Falcons. He should be glad. Since blowing Super Bowl LI, the Falcons have been terrible. Quinn should be relieved. He will have company, as GM Thomas Dimitroff will join him.

~Teddy Bridgewater is having the quietest rebirth ever. Carolina is 3-2 with their best player on IR. Bridgewater has been really solid.

~Tom Brady showed, once again, he is a poor sport. He will say otherwise, but this is the second time he has stormed off the field without shaking Nick Foles’ hand. He also threw a tantrum on the sideline, screaming at his offensive line and throwing an iPad. If that is Ben Roethlisberger, for example, they would be crucified.

NFC West

~San Francisco has a quarterback problem, as in they don’t have a good one. The defense is playing soft to boot. Making the playoffs seems unlikely.

~Just give Russell Wilson the MVP now. Why wait?

Announcing

~Jonathan Vilma should never announce again. Literally everything he said was wrong. Player names, confusing Franco Harris with actor James Franco, and every call…wrong! Kenny Albert must be wondering how far he has fallen to get stuck with this guy.

~ I have a new drinking game. Take a shot every time an announcer speculates what things would be like if there was a crowd, how disappointing it is not having a crowd, or how a crowd would have made a difference. Nothing like stating the obvious.

A Penny For My Final Thought…

~What the hell is this?

What that is, is Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt covering everything but his mouth and nose with his mask. Then we have whatever this is.

In addition to coaches ignoring the mask wearing rule, we had Texas A&M doubling down on Georgia’s crowd last week.

Few masks and less social distancing.

Annoyed by his team’s loss, Florida coach Dan Mullen lashed out, telling reporters he hopes his school’s administration doesn’t blow it and allows a packed Swamp for the Gators’ next home game. That would be 90,000 fans he is asking for. He cited Florida Governor Ron DeSantis removing any crowd restrictions in his state. DeSantis, of course, has displayed his cluelessness throughout the duration of the pandemic. 3,000 new cases and 118 new deaths were added to the docket just on Friday alone. Fortunately, cooler heads will prevail at Florida. The university has already stated they will continue to follow the advice of their own health officials.

Watching college football makes me wonder if people in the South don’t think the virus will cross the Mason-Dixon Line. It is just nuts. They have a total disregard for the guidelines.

We are all sick of the virus. We are all sick of wearing masks. Nobody yearns to wear a mask. But college football coaches have been particularly whiny about it all, often citing a need to be heard on their headset.

The grocery store workers wear their masks all day, often needing to speak to customers. Factory workers wear their masks for an entire shift, many doing so in an extremely hot environments. Teachers wear their masks all day long while reading, teaching, and sometimes disciplining their students.

I think football coaches will still be heard clearly enough. Part of being a coach is setting an example. Practicing what you preach. Why are they better than all the people I just mentioned?

You know which coach wears his mask religiously on the sideline? Nick Saban. Love him or hate him, he does the right thing more often than not. Saban demands discipline and accountability. He practices what he preaches. I’m sure he doesn’t like it any more than other coaches, but he does the right thing. The only time I saw him mask less was when walking to the microphone for his on field postgame interview with ESPN.

Since coaches are most likely tested with their players throughout the week, maybe the masks aren’t that important. But it is a safety guideline that was put in place. It is a rule. Coaches expect their players to follow rules, even when they may not agree with them.

Many of these coaches need to practice what they preach.

Just my two cents…