If there is one takeaway from the 2013 season, it is this: good old-fashioned, simple defense still wins football games. Even in this era of spread formations, record-setting offensive performances and pass-happy coaches, nothing can beat the kind of defense the Seahawks played. In fact, basic, fundamentally sound defense might be more effective than ever.
Teams that have been pouring so many resources into offensive football are looking hard at their models right now, questioning if they have been doing the right thing. At least if they are smart they are.
"There are those who feel that it's a totally offensive game nowadays and the rules have allowed that to flourish," Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells told Bleacher Report. "And that has happened to a large degree. But you know, being old-fashioned like I am, I've always felt that defense was the key to the sport. I think what you see is the top teams near the end of the season were the top defensive teams, particularly in the NFC."
An AFC general manager noted that most of the teams that advanced in the early rounds of the playoffs did so with strong defensive efforts and sound running games. The Seahawks, 49ers, Patriots, Saints and Chargers all won in the postseason that way.
"If you couldn't stop the run, you had trouble," he said. "When it got down to it, the formula for winning football hasn't changed through the decades. They don't score, you don't lose."
Super Bowl XLVIII was merely the latest example of a stout defense overcoming a great offense in the biggest game of the year. It happened seven years ago when the Giants held the record-setting Patriots, who scored nearly 38 points per game in the regular season, to 14 in their Super Bowl victory. It also happened in the Super Bowl after the 2002 season, when the best defense in the league (Bucs) buried the best offense (Raiders).
What stands out about the Seahawks defense is its simplicity. The Seahawks don't blitz a lot. They don't change much from week to week. In fact, they became simpler in 2013, when Dan Quinn was named defensive coordinator, than they were previously, paring down volume in the playbook and focusing on the things they could do best. Nothing they are doing is cutting edge.
"There was no magic formula," NBC analyst Tony Dungy said. "That's why there wasn't a lot for Denver to go to. It wasn't a matter of adjusting protection to pick up blitzes, or get these routes going to take advantage of some special coverage they were playing. The Seahawks played what they play—lot of three-deep zone, make you throw the ball underneath. They play a little bit of man coverage. What they do is old-school football. That's the beauty of it. They don't do a lot. They play what they do better than what you can execute."
The new trend in the NFL very well could be defenses that are as simple to read as a digital clock.
Here's why: A lot of teams are signing veterans to one-year contracts now. Defensive players are coming and going more frequently than before. And there are fewer opportunities than ever for defensive players to practice and hit, so there is a limit on what can be taught. Defensive coaches are finding it's more productive to try to have their players master footwork, hand placement and technique than trying to run a jack-of-all-trades defense.
Offenses, meanwhile, remain pretty varied from team to team. So a defense that has to make major adjustments from week to week is at a disadvantage over one that pretty much does the same thing no matter the opponent.
"The Seahawks are pretty simplistic, and they rely on execution," Parcells said. "They get a lot of repetitions on what they do because they don't do a lot. So they get very, very good at what they do. I know when I was coaching defense with Bill Belichick, that's exactly [the way] we tried to do it. Same exact way. A little different style of defense, but basically the same theory—simple, know what you are looking for personnel wise and rely on execution."
Look for more of that on defense in 2014.
• The Bucs already have started making front-office changes under new general manager Jason Licht. Expected to get the heave-ho is highly respected long-time trainer Todd Toriscelli. Others, including some scouts, may follow. Word is Licht may bring in Jon Sandusky and John Spytek from the Browns for high-ranking front-office positions. Both worked with Licht in Philadelphia.
• Word out of Eden Prarie is that Vikings special teams coach Mike Priefer will survive allegations about gay bashing from former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe and remain with the team—even though the investigation is ongoing. It should be noted that Priefer is highly respected in coaching circles. Some thought he was as good as any assistant on the Minnesota staff last year. Losing him would have been a blow for the Vikings and new head coach Mike Zimmer.
• Many NFL front-office men have expressed relief that the draft was pushed back this year, because extra work needed to be done considering the record number of underclassmen who elected to make themselves eligible. They figure they will need the additional two weeks to play catch-up on players they had not anticipated entering the draft. Many scouts were scrambling to get information on underclassmen prior to pre-combine meetings by phoning contacts and bemoaning the fact that they couldn't get as much intel as they could with campus visits. One general manager said he hoped to use the bulk of his 60 combine interviews and 30 post-combine interviews on underclassmen because there were so many holes in their files on them.
• The Ravens have made a practice of showing aging players the door, and it has served them well in most cases. That does not mean we have seen the last of Terrell Suggs in Baltimore, however. Ravens coaches still believe he is a valuable asset, though it is clear he tailed off in the second half of the season. But the Ravens do need to do something about his $12.4 million cap number in 2014. Look for them to work a deal with him to help free up some cap space.
• Former second-round pick Peter Konz was benched at two positions last year, but the Falcons are not giving up on him. And he is not giving up on himself. Word out of Flowery Branch is that Konz has been the first one in the weight room every day since the end of the season. The plan is for him to compete with Joe Hawley for the starting center job, and the hope is new offensive line coach Mike Tice will have a positive impact on him. The assistant and the player have a connection, as Tice's son Nate played at Wisconsin with Konz.
Scout Talk: Potential Combine Stars
Some players surprise NFL front-office staff with outstanding combine workouts; others are expected to put up big numbers and stand out in the positional drills. Based on conversations with talent evaluators, here are some prospects who are expected to do big things in Indy:
QB Blake Bortles, Central Florida: Scouts think he will run fast and show excellent athleticism for his size. If Bortles throws, his arm strength should stand out as well. Johnny Manziel also could be an athletic standout, but he probably wouldn't stand to gain much by throwing, given that accuracy is not his strong spot.
RB De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon: The numbers should be flashy from Thomas. In addition to straight-ahead speed, Thomas should put up good shuttle numbers, and his explosiveness should help him in the jumps. One scout said he thinks Thomas will be a standout in receiving drills as well.
WR Odell Beckham, LSU: Scouts say there are those in Baton Rouge who will tell you Beckham is one of the finest athletes the school has seen in decades. That athleticism should show up in various forms, and he can really help his draft stock.
TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina: His athleticism has been compared to Vernon Davis', though he might not be quite in the same class. Ebron has put on some significant weight since his junior season in an effort to be a better blocker, and one veteran front-office man said Ebron isn't as fast as he was, but he still is pretty special.
OL Greg Robinson, Auburn: Robinson's combination of size and athleticism is sure to create a "wow" effect. But, as one scout said, we probably won't find out much that we didn't already know about him.
DL Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina: This is where he can make people feel better about him with an overwhelming performance. One front-office member said he wouldn't be surprised if Clowney put up defensive back numbers at 270 pounds.
LB Khalil Mack, Buffalo: People who have seen him training for the combine say he is one of the most explosive athletes they have ever witnessed. Mack also has a Tarzan body.
S Marqueston Huff, Wyoming: He is a safety/corner tweener, but he is fast and athletic no matter where he is lined up. Huff is expected to run an impressive 40-yard dash. There do not appear to be any top-end athletes at the safety position.
CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State: His blazing speed should show up at the combine in a big way. Roby also can excel in the positional drills.
• Golden Tate celebrated winning the Super Bowl by uncorking a bottle of champagne worth $100,000. Upon sobering up, he began talking about how much money he'd like to make on his new contract.
• Former Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca is one-third the man he used to be (via Runners World), but he's never stood taller.
• Then there is Jared Lorenzen.
• Richie Incognito wants Jonathan Martin back in the NFL next season. Why wouldn't he? His next trip to Vegas could be cheaper that way.
• Dolphins coach Joe Philbin took exception to the characterization of the Miami locker room as a sports version of Animal House, according to the Palm Beach Post. And though he may have been tempted, he did not smash a guitar against a wall for emphasis.
• Pepper Johnson wanted out of Bill Belichick's shadow. No word on whether he consulted Romeo Crennel, Charlie Weis, Eric Mangini and Josh McDaniels on how that might work out.
Dan Pompei covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.
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