This article is part of our East Coast Offense series.
Defense Wins Championships?
We had RotoWire's Jerry Donabedian on the SXM show Monday, and he mentioned that the best teams in the league are winning with defense this year, an oddity in the modern NFL where offense is usually viewed as the bigger factor (in part because it's more consistent year over year.) But the two undefeated teams in the league, the Patriots (4.1 YPP, 1st), 49ers (4.3 YPP, 2nd) are winning by stopping opponents rather than lighting it up on offense.
The two outlier offensive teams, the Chiefs (7.0 YPP, two straight home losses), the Cowboys (6.8, three straight losses) are struggling, in part due to injuries, and traditional offensive juggernauts like the Rams (5.6 YPP), Saints (5.7) and Patriots (5.5) have been far less efficient than in years past.
It could be just a six-week anomaly, and when the Chiefs get healthy and the Saints get Drew Brees back, offense will again rule the day. In fact, last year, the league's Conference Championship teams (Chiefs, Rams, Saints Patriots) ranked 1-4 in YPP, respectively.
But as Jim Coventry, my co-host Monday, pointed out, the Rams 11 personnel scheme seems to have been solved. Vic Fangio, former Bears defensive coordinator, shut them down last year, the Rams offense wasn't the same in the second half, and Bill Belichick held them to three points in the Super Bowl. And that's before the major struggles this year. I've written that quarterbacks don't matter as much when the scheme and offensive line are good, but if you don't have a great QB when those things go south, you wind up with Week 6 Jared Goff.
It's more surprising to me to see the Chiefs, who have offensive line injuries of their own, struggle with Patrick Mahomes, but Mahomes might not be himself on a balky ankle. And the Cowboys have had problems ever since all-world left tackle Tyron Smith got hurt. It also didn't help that they finally faced real defenses after starting off with the Giants, Redskins and Dolphins. But whatever the reasons, the top offensive teams have not been as dominant, and their task should only get harder as weather becomes an issue later in the year. Incidentally, the average per-play gain in the league (5.6 yards) is exactly the same as it was last year, though scoring output is down about one point per game (23.3 to 22.4), indicating that maybe the increased emphasis on holding calls is holding down offenses somewhat.
I don't have a big takeaway from this – as I said it's a small sample, and some of the Patriots and 49ers defensive success is predicated on their early-season opponents. The Patriots have played the Steelers (with a lame-armed Ben Roethlisberger), the Dolphins, the Luke Falk Jets, the Bills, the Redskins and the Saquon Barkley/Sterling Shepard/Evan Engram-less Giants. The 49ers have an even smaller sample, and their schedule included the Mason Rudolph Steelers and the Bengals. But good schedules drive outliers every year, and we rarely see the top two defenses as the league's elite teams in the modern NFL.
I'll add one final thought. Whether this is predictive, I can't be sure, but almost any time an elite defense is matched up against a more balanced team or an elite offense in the Super Bowl, they're usually underdogs, and they win outright. And by elite, I don't mean elite that year, but top-25-ish all time. Examples include the 2000 Ravens, the 2002 Buccaneers, the 2013 Seahawks and the 2016 Broncos. The Patriots and 49ers have a long way to go before we can put them in that category, but it's an auspicious start.
Week 7 Trivia
George Kittle, the record holder for receiving yards for a TE in a single season, had 103 yards Sunday to put him on a pace 1,082 this year. Can you name all the TEs in NFL history with 1,000-yard seasons?
Guessing the Lines
|Game||My Line||My Early Line||Guessed Line||Actual Line||ML-AL||O/U||Actual O/U||MO-AO|
|Chiefs at Broncos||0||-4||-3||-3.5||-3.5||47||49||2|
|Dolphins at Bills||13||13.5||13||17||4||39||39||0|
|Jaguars at Bengals||-2.5||-4||-2.5||-3||-0.5||44||43.5||-0.5|
|Vikings at Lions||0||2.5||1.5||0||0||43||45||2|
|Raiders at Packers||7||7.5||7.5||6.5||-0.5||47||46.5||-0.5|
|Rams at Falcons||-6.5||-5.5||-6||-3||3.5||53||54||1|
|Texans at Colts||3||3.5||3||1||-2||44||48||4|
|49ers at Redskins||-13||-9.5||-13||-10||3||46||42||-4|
|Cardinals at Giants||5.5||6.5||3||3||-2.5||54||49.5||-4.5|
|Chargers at Titans||1.5||1.5||3||2||0.5||45||40||-5|
|Saints at Bears||0||1.5||3||3||3||40||38.5||-1.5|
|Ravens at Seahawks||6.5||3.5||5.5||3.5||-3||47||50.5||3.5|
|Eagles at Cowboys||3||3||3||3||0||47||48.5||1.5|
|Patriots at Jets||-6.5||-13.5||-7||-9.5||-3||43||42||-1|
Per Rufus Peabody's suggestion, I made the lines for Week 7 before Week 6 (My Early Line), just to see how much I'm being swayed by recency bias. The biggest changes from last week to this one were the Chiefs, 49ers, Seahawks and Jets, though in every case, the market moved the line far less than I did. Recency bias indeed, though we'll see whether it's bias or a proper weighing of new evidence.
Week 6 Observations
• The Chargers need to beg San Diego to take them back, suck it up for any deal they can get. You can't have a franchise playing road games at home.
• The Steelers defense is good, but they need Mason Rudolph back — you can't win many games when your only receiver is a running back. James Conner broke a lot of tackles for key first downs, mostly on receptions, but Benny Snell out-carried and out-rushed him.
• I'd buy-low on Juju Smith-Schuster this week.
• Sam Darnold looked like a player against the Cowboys, except for his awful red-zone pick. That's unfortunate for me because I love dunking on the Jets so much, but he might end up being very good. Jamison Crowder, Robby Anderson and maybe even Demaryius Thomas are playable again.
• Dak Prescott looked like a lock for a big payday a few weeks ago, but he's been bad since losing Tyron Smith right when the schedule got tougher. It didn't help that he lost Amari Cooper early in this game, either.
• Zeke Elliott usually gets his — 28 carries and six targets Sunday.
• The Falcons defense is abominable, but the offense still had them back in the game before Matt Bryant blew it on a missed PAT. It was a frustrating watch if you bet the Falcons — in addition to Bryant's miss, they lost a few key overturns, notably a fumble into the end zone they recovered that was called down even though the replay showed otherwise.
• The only question left for the Niners is whether they're better than the Patriots. They flat out dominated the Rams on their home field, despite two turnovers from Jimmy Garoppolo, one of which was a total giveaway in the end zone. The 49ers were also coming off a short week, having played Monday night, while the Rams had 10 days off.
• Jared Goff managed 78 yards, 3.3 YPA, four sacks, a lost fumble and zero TD against the 49ers. The only bright spot on offense for the Rams was Darrell Henderson who for God knows what reason has been backing up Malcolm Brown all year and still saw only six carries and two targets in this game. Why draft a guy in the third round if you're never going to use him, and when you finally do use him, and he looks great, you stop using him?
• George Kittle is a monster — the Rams could not stop or tackle him.
• Kyle Shanahan >>>> Sean McVay
• I foolishly had the Ravens -11.5, and when the Bengals were driving in garbage time down 13, I was praying they didn't settle for a short field goal on 4th down. As it turns out they scored a TD and covered anyway, but a legitimate backdoor cover I can live with. That the Dolphins miraculously covered and sealed it by going for two at the same time also softened the blow.
• Lamar Jackson beats up on bad teams, but I'm not sure he's an asset to the Ravens against better competition.
• The Saints won convincingly on the road against a decent Jaguars team. There's no way Drew Brees is six or seven points better than this competent caretaker version of Teddy Bridgewater. I'd say two or three, max.
• Leonard Fournette had another 20 carries and six targets. You will rarely go wrong with that combination, no matter how few points the team scores.
• I made the Eagles my best bet, so that was a disappointing game. The Eagles came back from 24-3 to 24-20, despite a failed fake FG try and being stopped on downs in the first half, but couldn't finish the job. Carson Wentz looked great to me despite merely decent numbers. He's one of the hardest QBs to corral in the pocket, and he's accurate throwing on the move. He misses field stretcher DeSean Jackson though, as most of his throws were dink and dunk.
• Kirk Cousins had another good statistical game. He's accurate when he can stand in the pocket and throw, and the Eagles secondary left Stefon Diggs absurdly wide open on two deep balls. But I still don't trust Cousins in adverse conditions.
• Terry McLaurin produces every week he suits up, no matter how bad the QB is.
• I didn't see a lot of the second half of Chiefs-Texans, but Pat Mahomes and the Chiefs were shut down almost completely.
• The Chiefs attempted only 10 rushes all game and lost the time of possession 39:38 to 20:12.
• Russell Wilson is a top-five all-time NFL player and a massive favorite for MVP so far this year.
• Tyler Lockett has gone back to seeing only a handful of targets per game. D.K. Metcalf might not be agile, but he's big, fast and powerful.
• I was skeptical of Chris Carson before the year, but he's a beast — just does not go down and is even useful as a pass catcher.
• Nick Chubb is starting to get the workload he deserves — 20 carries, two TDs, six targets. He's a top-five back.
• I took the Bucs plus two, and even though they lost by 11, I felt like I was on the right side. I mean you have to price in a couple Jameis Winston turnovers, but six, and the score should have been far more lopsided. I did like having Chris Godwin and Mike Evans going in what seemed like endless garbage time. What a narrow tree they have, given they refuse to throw to O.J. Howard. But Evans should have had much more — he dropped a long TD in the first half, and he had trouble tracking another deep ball when he was one on one with a much smaller defender. But together he and Godwin had 29 targets.
• Christian McCaffrey didn't do much against the Bucs, but the workload (22 carries, five targets) and the touchdowns (2) were there. Through six games, McCaffrey has nine TDs already. Last year through six games he had only one.
• Aaron Rodgers had all day to throw, and he's still the same superstar, greatest-of-all-time-conversation-worthy player. He's healthy, moved well, rarely made negative plays and put the ball on the money all day. The Packers offensive line was excellent, both pass and run-blocking.
• Jamaal Williams was better than Aaron Jones Monday night — unlike Jones, he didn't drop a perfectly thrown wide-open TD or lose a fumble — and he ran for more yards, was more productive as a receiver and scored a receiving TD. Jones still has more burst, but this is back to being a timeshare.
• Allen Lazard was the hero with the lucky TD that he nearly dropped at the end, but the second leading receiver was blocking TE Marcedes Lewis. The Packers need to trade for a receiver badly, even after they get Adams back.
• Matthew Stafford looked great early on the accurate deep throws, but was under pressure and settled for short stuff the rest of the game. The Lions running game couldn't get going at all.
• The other reason the Lions covered was Matt Prater — he was money, going 5-for-5 on field goals including two from 50-plus.
• Finally, the Packers nearly covered on the final series as the Lions smartly tried to let Jamaal Williams score the TD to get the ball back. But Williams himself was too aware and did the right thing by going down at the two.