Offenses On A Roll, Defenses On Rebound

With NFL offenses taking off, it should be no surprise that NFL defenses are starting to turn things around.

Offenses in charge, but defenses will rise in NFL

For all the high-flying offenses and high-scoring games, defense still matters in the NFL. And when the weather gets nasty and injuries and fatigue begin wearing down players, that will be even truer.

Yes, the league is on pace to set some offensive records, led by Peyton Manning's magic in Denver. Nine teams are averaging at least 25 points a game and Indianapolis is barely under that.

Yet, on several division leaders — New England, New Orleans, Seattle, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Indy — defense has more than played its part.

"It's a highly motivated group," Saints coordinator Rob Ryan says, knowing full well how awful New Orleans was on defense in 2012, when Ryan was with the Cowboys. "I think we all have egg on our face from last season and take that seriously. We want to be a hell of a lot better than what people think we are, so we're just working hard to be a little tiny part of our success."

Offenses tend to be ahead of defenses early in the season for several reasons:

—Teams rarely show their full offense in preseason games, so defenses need time and game film to get up to speed.

—New schemes presented by offensive coordinators, which can range from the read-option to the spread to whatever is next (the power pistol?), depending on coaches' whims and opponents' tendencies, are challenging to defenses.

—Although every game is worth 1-16th of a team's record, gambling on offense in the early season is more prevalent.

—With normally good weather, the passing game is easier to implement, harder to defend.

—Placekickers have fewer negatives to deal with.

Much of that will change in November and, particularly, in December. So teams with solid defenses — only Seattle's might be called a shutdown D, although Kansas City comes close with all the takeaways it forces — could rise to the top as the temperatures plummet, the winds whip wildly and the precipitation falls.

That hardly means plenty of 10-9 games are ahead. But a 21-20 score nowadays constitutes a defensive battle.

"It's a transition league," says Patriots coach Bill Belichick, whose defense is as responsible, if not more, for a 5-1 record as is Tom Brady. "You have to find a way to win every year and every week. That's what we're trying to do, is just trying to find a way to win. We're not trying to replicate anything from some other year or team or whatever it is. We're trying to find a way for the 2013 team to win. Whatever that is — offense, defense, special teams — whatever those 45 guys can do, that's what we're trying to do."

With injuries and a lack of depth on his defense, Belichick might be hard-pressed to get such strong performances from his squad the rest of the way. If any coach can do it, though, it's probably him.

Which teams are well-suited to have their defenses carry them to the playoffs, and then deep into January?
Try these:

SEATTLE: The Seahawks should be nicknamed The Smashmouths. They have the size, speed, intelligence and nastiness to handle any offense, particularly if the game is at CenturyLink Field.

SAN FRANCISCO: From front to back, this might be the most talented bunch in the NFL. No team is better at safety, where rookie Eric Reid has been outstanding, complementing Donte Whitner. But with the uncertainty surrounding Aldon Smith, will the Niners have enough of a pass rush?

CINCINNATI: When the Bengals get their pass rush cranked up, it comes from the inside and the outside. There's lots of experience in the secondary, too.

KANSAS CITY: Ball hawks everywhere. Like Cincinnati, the Chiefs get after the quarterback, and they do it with their linebackers more than almost any other team. If Justin Houston isn't the top defensive player in the league so far, maybe Tamba Hali is.

BALTIMORE: This is the wild card, which is where the Ravens might wind up if they get into the postseason. The defense is younger, faster and more agile than the unit that helped Baltimore win the Super Bowl in February. In Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, it has the dynamic pass rushers. But it needs to force more turnovers.

Finally, there are the potent offensive teams that, if they can mix in steady defenses, should be favorites to lift the Lombardi Trophy. The Saints, who have made those huge strides under Ryan; the Colts, when they are aggressive; and Broncos, now that Von Miller and Champ Bailey are back, fall into that category.

So when that white stuff is falling from the sky, the tundra becomes slippery and the biting wind swirls, think defense.

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