“It’s still the same things as ever to me,” Lynch said. “You have to have some impact, special players. I still believe you have to stop the run and make the offense one-dimensional. Clearly, you have to get after the quarterback. You have to knock him down. And you have to be a great tackling team. It is really sloppy now. All these catches aren’t being made 60 yards downfield. There are a lot of receivers catching short passes, breaking tackles and going a long way.”
Millen, too, said that tackling fundamentals by many NFL defenders are extremely poor and might be worsening because of new restrictions in the sport’s new labor agreement limiting contact in practices.
“When you’re hardly ever in pads,” Millen said, “you’re seeing the difference in the NFL right now. . . . It shows up in poor fundamentals in tackling and offensive line play.”
Former Washington Redskins and Houston Texans general manager Charley Casserly said he thinks the season must play out further before firm conclusions should be drawn. But for now, he said, defenses appear to have suffered more than offenses from the lack of formal practices during the 41
“Everyone thought that defenses would be ahead of offenses without the offseason preparation because of the blitzes and pass-protection issues,” Casserly said. “But it seems to me what we’re seeing is that defenses are behind offenses. I don’t know that you had enough time in the offseason to work on it and be ready to defend all the complex things that you’re seeing with these passing offenses.”
The Ravens’ way
In Owings Mill, Md., the Baltimore Ravens’ training facility is one of the few where defensive players can still walk around proudly.
“I think the standard here is a little different with the Ravens, how we’ve been successful on defense throughout the years,” Carr said here late in the week. “We’ve been good thus far. Hopefully we keep it up. A team like us, we have the players. We have the mentality. We have the system and we’ve all been in it. We have that advantage there. Our mentality hasn’t changed.”
Carr said he has seen defensive confusion and missed coverage assignments around the league this season. That has not been a major issue for the Ravens, who are surrendering 13.3 points per game and lead the league in scoring defense.
“It all comes back to number one stopping the run, making a team one-dimensional, and then playing good, sound coverage and getting after the quarterback,” Johnson said. “It’s always the same. . . . You can still do it. It’s obviously not impossible. It is tough with the rules with quarterbacks and stuff. But you’re still capable of playing dominant defense.”
Hall of Fame linebacker Sam Huff, a longtime analyst on radio broadcasts of Redskins games, said the league should guard against tipping the competitive scales too far toward offenses.
“I always thought we were paid to hit people,” Huff said. “The NFL is a game of contact. It’s a great game. . . . But I’m concerned about the future of the sport if things keep going the way they’re going. If you make it touch football, no one will pay $100 to go see it.”
But Casserly, a former member of the competition committee, said no safety-related rule changes will be reversed and he sees no obvious modifications to be made to aid defenses.
Lynch said “maybe at some point people will say these rules have gone too far and we need to do something to help the defenses,” but added: “I don’t count on it. I know the NFL likes all these points.”
So defensive players will have to learn to cope with “the new normal,” as Millen called it.
“And of that new normal,” Millen said, “there will be a best running game, a best defense. We’ll say, ‘They played great defense,’ and the score was 42-41. We’ll say someone led the league in scoring defense and they gave up 39 points a game.”