There has never been a better time to be an offensive player than in today’s NFL. Scoring is up league-wide and quarterbacks are putting up some of the highest completion rates we’ve ever seen.
However, while offensive players are shining, defenses are struggling to keep pace. There are only five defenses in the league that are allowing fewer than 20 points per game this season. To discuss how best to stop some of the league’s top offenses, we caught up with NFL on CBS analyst and former safety Adam Archuleta, who is on the call for this weekend’s Arizona Cardinals-Oakland Raiders game this weekend on CBS, alongside Spero Dedes. (Editor’s note: This conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity)
CBS Local Sports: When you look at some of these offenses like the Rams, Chiefs, Saints they don’t seem to have many weaknesses. What is the best way to stop them or slow them down?
Adam Archuleta: That is a tough question. First off, what those offenses all have in common is, they all have dynamic running backs. I know there is a de-emphasis on running backs and people think you can plug and play, but when you look at those three guys, Kareem Hunt, (Todd) Gurley, and (Alvin) Kamara they are the focal points of those offenses. They are really hard to stop and can hurt you.
The other thing is, each of those teams have highly accurate quarterbacks. These guys are putting the ball in unbelievable locations to allow their guys to go out there and make plays after the catch. And then, you also have the schemes that these teams run.
We went through a period where everybody was enamored with this horizontal, short, high-percentage passing game. I think it’s garbage. The best teams in the league, the hardest offenses are the ones that can throw the ball down field and demoralize you with big plays. All of these offenses are doing that. Yeah, you can throw the ball short, but if you can’t attack and throw the ball deep, then you’re not going to be one of the best offenses in the NFL. All of these offenses have all of these three qualities.
So, how do you stop them? Well, the rules have a huge impact because now there are not as many consequences to throwing the ball so many times per game. The consequences for quarterbacks, receivers and offensive coordinators aren’t the same. Now, you get quarterbacks that get a lot more confidence. The tested and true formula for defenses stopping great offenses is being able to pressure and harass the quarterback with four guys up front. Being able to get quick pressure with four and making these quarterbacks make really fast decisions while disrupting their timing is the best way to stop them. If you can’t do that with four, these offenses are so good at putting you in bad matchups that you’re playing with fire.
CBS Local Sports: You are on the call for Oakland-Arizona this weekend, two teams in the midst of a rebuilding process. For the Cardinals, they have their young quarterback in Josh Rosen. What do you think of his play thus far?
Adam Archuleta: It’s really hard to get an evaluation on Rosen for several reasons. A) He didn’t start the season off as the starting quarterback. B) They had to change their offensive coordinator midway through the season. C) The offensive line has really struggled this year to protect any quarterback or open things up in the running game.
It’s hard enough for rookies to come in and be impactful and learn how to play NFL-caliber football. He doesn’t have an ideal environment to go out and thrive.
The good news is that even though it is difficult to change coordinators mid-season, the change has been positive for him. They are doing a better job of trying to create opportunities for their weapons. That should really help him.
The other thing that I like, which I think is absolutely necessary in today’s game, is that he isn’t afraid to take shots down field. It seems like that is where he is most comfortable and where he does his best work. He is still a little erratic in the short passing game, but I don’t think you can be a good quarterback or a great offense in this day and age if you don’t threaten to throw the ball down the field.
Having said that, he has the tools. It’s just going to be hard to see what you really have in him because of the circumstances regarding the team and the offense this year. I think he has what it takes to be a productive quarterback.
CBS Local Sports: For the Raiders, Jon Gruden seems to be cleaning house to bring in his guys after the year. Do you think he should keep Derek Carr? Or should the team move in a different direction?
Adam Archuleta: The roster fluctuation on that team has not only hurt Derek Carr, it has hurt everybody. When you have guys coming in and out and don’t think that they are part of this future, it is hard to go out and play together every Sunday. What he needs, and what every quarterback needs, is a roster built around his strengths. When I look at him, if he is in a situation where they believe in him and build a system around him, not the other way around, absolutely he can be a winning quarterback in this league. If that is part of the recipe in Oakland then he is your guy.
CBS Local Sports: While those two teams are rebuilding, the Colts and Titans are in the playoff hunt. They face each other this weekend, what is the key matchup to watch there?
Adam Archuleta: It is going to be the Titans front seven against Andrew Luck and the offensive line. I have had the Colts four time this year and I just got done talking about how important it is for a coach to build around the strengths of his players. Frank Reich has done that. He is one of the best in the league at developing game plans around his team’s strengths and the defense’s weaknesses.
They are attacking defenses and because of that, Luck is raising his game. Their offensive line, which was a weakness, is now a huge strength. There has been no pressure. They have been able to open up holes in the run game, which makes the offense extremely difficult to defend because of their balance. If you can’t disrupt them, like Jacksonville failed to do last week, they can schematically confuse a defense.
That is the matchup because you saw Tennessee able to get after Tom Brady last week with their front seven. The Titans are going to need that kind of performance again this week against Luck and that offense.