Amy Lawrence: Defenses Still Important In Modern NFL

A high-octane offense can be exciting to watch, Amy Lawrence says, but a stifling defense keeps a team grounded and balanced

After Hours with Amy Lawrence
October 29, 2018 - 7:45 am

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Contrary to popular belief, it's NOT all about the offense.

It's definitely swimming upstream in 2018 to point the spotlight at a dominant defense that secured a win or kept a team close until an offense could scrounge together enough points. Defense doesn't garner the same attention or create the same buzz as a shoot-out. Not nearly as many people rave about a defensive slugfest as a high-flying, high-octane track meet that races up and down the field. Yes, 1000 combined yards and 70 points will leave us breathless. Gaudy passing attacks are the new-age NFL, but offense is only part of the equation. If offense is the flag, defense is the flagpole. A solid D keeps a team anchored, stable, strong, and consistent.

Of course, the football world is geeked up over the final two games of Week 6. Both the Sunday and Monday night affairs delivered heart-pounding, jaw-dropping action until the very last second. Aaron Rodgers deserves all the credit in the world for the late scoring drives he engineered in Green Bay's comeback win over the Niners at Lambeau Field. He put on a clinic. His ability to extend plays, wait for receivers to gain the advantage, hit the back-shoulder throws, and work the clock are other-worldly. He absolutely deserves the accolades, as does Mason Crosby, who earned sweet redemption with his game-winning field goal only a few days after the worst performance of his career. But neither Rodgers nor Crosby deliver their exclamation points without the Packers defense in the 4th quarter.

Allowing 30 points to the visiting Niners and backup quarterback C.J. Beathard doesn't feel like a win for the defense; but with time running out and the Packers trailing by seven, the D made sure Rodgers had the ball. On San Francisco's final three possessions, Green Bay forced a pair of quick punts and a turnover. Clay Matthews sacked Beathard for a loss on one 3rd down, and Kevin King hauled in his first career interception when he matched Marquise Goodwin stride for stride downfield in single coverage. The Packers blitz rushed Beathard into a poor decision, and King took advantage. Three consecutive possessions stopped dead in their tracks. The Niners were held scoreless for the bulk of the final quarter, while Rodgers sparked the Pack to 10 unanswered points. Rodgers deserves the glory, but the defense should share the credit.

A similar argument cannot be made for the New England and Kansas City defenses, which forced ONE punt between them in Sunday night's clash of the titans. The teams combined for 83 points (30 in the 4th quarter), 946 total yards, and a whopping 128 plays! The Patriots alone collected 31 first downs. It was pure insanity--highly entertaining, unbelievably dramatic, and FUN--but there's no case to be made for the defenses. There's also no way to manipulate the numbers in favor of the Denver defense with almost 600 yards rushing surrendered in the last two games. Moving on...

Multiple teams claimed Week 6 wins on the strength of their D. The Ravens set a new franchise record with 11 sacks of Marcus Mariota! Tennessee barely scraped together 100 yards of total offense and couldn't manage a single point. In the NFL, that's hard to do. Baltimore pitched a shutout by stifling the Titans, who averaged just 2.6 yards per play and never made it into the red zone.

While Melvin Gordon was cruising for 132 yards and three rushing touchdowns, the Chargers defense was making life miserable for Cleveland QB Baker Mayfield. The rookie was under siege most of the day, sacked five times and hit another nine times. He was also harassed into a pair of interceptions.

The Texans and Bills settled their game on the defensive side of the ball. Buffalo sacked Deshaun Watson seven times and turned him over three times. He had all kinds of problems holding onto the ball. But his D bailed him out. Once rookie Josh Allen left the game with an elbow injury, Houston feasted on Nathan Peterman possessions. Johnathan Joseph scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 28-yard interception return, and Kareem Jackson sealed the victory by picking off Peterman on Buffalo's last drive.

No signs of jet lag for the Seahawks defense in London. They sacked Derek Carr a half-dozen times, hit him another 10, and twice stripped him of the football. Oakland coach Jon Gruden decided enough was enough and was prepared to keep Carr on the sidelines after the sixth sack. "Too much fire today around the quarterback."

The Cowboys defense suffocated Blake Bortles and the Jaguars, allowing a meager 201 total yards. A few sacks, a couple takeaways, only one scoring drive, and a whole lot of frustration--the perfect formula from Dallas in its most complete performance of the season.

As football fans, we're mesmerized by huge plays downfield, last-minute scoring drives, shiny QB stats, and record books rewritten. Offenses drive the excitement, from the roars of the crowd to the highlight reels. But it's the best defenses with their focus, discipline, communication, intensity, and effort that keep a team grounded and balanced. Without the same flash or sex appeal, they can still control games; and they deliver the ball to their quarterbacks. Defenses have the power to erase the mistakes of their offenses. Ultimately, defenses determine the champion.

Similar to golf, drive for show...putt for dough.

A well-traveled veteran of sports radio and television, Amy is the passionate host of CBS Sports Radio’s late-night program, After Hours with Amy Lawrence, from 2-6am ET on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. Listeners can tune in from Canada and overseas, thanks to SiriusXM, and the CBS Sports app. Amy has also handled basketball play-by-play and color duties for various radio and TV outlets over the past 15 years. Amy graduated from Messiah College with bachelor’s degrees in Communications & Accounting before earning her master’s in TV & Radio from Syracuse University. She is a native of Concord, NH.