The NFL season has, of course, featured its share of high-flying, explosive offensive affairs. Teams like the Rams, Chiefs, Saints and Eagles have all lit up the scoreboard so far this year. But many games have been low-scoring, at least for one of the teams. Thirty-five games so far this season have featured a team scoring 10 points or fewer, and five have been shutouts, including three this past weekend.
What’s happening? Has less practice time during the offseason hurt offenses’ ability to execute game plans as flawlessly as in years past? Or is the pendulum starting to swing back towards the defensive side of the ball, after years of rising offensive numbers?
To better answer to these questions, we spoke with former Baltimore Ravens linebacker and current Inside The NFL analyst Ray Lewis.
CBS Local Sports: We’ve seen more dominant defensive performances this year than in recent seasons. What do you think offenses need to do to try and combat these defensive units that seem to be catching on?
Ray Lewis: Offenses are going to have to figure out very quickly how to come up with a lot of different formations. You have defenses now where you’ve started to see the game transition to having iPads on the sideline. And if you can memorize what you’re seeing on the sidelines as a defense, the communication level of what you’re already doing on the field carries over. Now, when you see the dominance start to happen, you see the Pittsburgh Steelers picking up a Joe Haden, with that type of experience, that’s a gem of knowledge with young guys.
It’s what is starting to happen around the league, defenses are really starting to hone in on ‘oh, this is the same old play.’ These are the same old things. Unless you give us something different, we’re going to embarrass you, we’re going to shut you out. That’s why I think so many offenses are struggling right now, because they’re going to have to find a way to become really creative. If not, we’re going to see something really dominant from a defensive perspective.
CBS Local Sports: So it seems like you’re looking for what is going to be the next innovation from offenses. It has been this more spread-out, uptempo attack. Now where do you think they go next if defenses have started to figure out how to stop it?
Ray Lewis: This is funny because, we’ve kind of gotten away from what the game has always been, which is 25 to 35 touches by the running back. Now that everybody has become so pass-happy, what you have to realize is, when defenses see that, they say ‘okay, we don’t need to have these big guys on the line.’ Instead, we can have guys like Michael Bennett, guys that don’t have to be 350 pounds, but can beat a guard or a tackle and make plays against the pass or the run. It used to be totally different back in the day.
The adjustments that defenses get to make when you’re not run-heavy? That benefits the defense 100-percent. That’s why I think when you start these pass-happy things and the league wants to see a lot of scoring, but you ask yourself now why are defenses becoming so dominant? It’s because you take one aspect of the game away, which totally benefits defense.
CBS Local Sports: Some have suggested the lack of practice time could be a factor in why offenses start the year a little more slowly. How much of a factor do you think that is?
Ray Lewis: There are two sides to that. If you can take care of your body longer, you play fresher. But you still have to practice everything at a certain pace. That’s what I think people don’t realize. They say ‘oh these guys take pads off and don’t hit as much during practice.’ But the pace is still high. I just think if you start to watch the games, defenses are now going to the sidelines, pulling [out] their iPads, making one or two adjustments and saying: ‘The ball ain’t going here, it’s not going there, they’re not running it. Guess what? This is about to be a fun day for us, and we have a chance to shut them out.’
Now, if I hadn’t lived this myself? To go through 2000 and shut out as many teams as we shut out that year? Then it’s just me talking. But to know when nobody can move the ball on you, it’s the best time for defense. There’s no problem in the league right now, it’s just defenses being defenses.
Lewis, along with Boomer Esiason, Phil Simms and James Brown break down this and other NFL storylines all season long each Tuesday night at 9 p.m. ET on Showtime’s Inside The NFL.