It’s a good time to be a great NFL quarterback.
Offensive holding calls are down. Defensive pass interference penalties are up. And it’s pretty obvious after four weeks that it was a whole lot easier to teach offense virtually than it was to teach defense.
Mix it all together and you have record-shattering numbers for points (3,233) and touchdowns (371) through the first month of the season. The previous records, both from 2018, were 3,030 points and 344 touchdowns.
“Play some fundamental defense, please!” Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy pleaded last week during NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” telecast.
Not happening, Tony. At least not outside of Indianapolis, where the Colts lead the league by a considerable margin in yards (236.3) and points (14.0) allowed.
The undefeated Packers and Seahawks each have scored 30 or more points in their first four games for the first time in the history of their franchises. Aaron Rodgers has 13 touchdown passes and no interceptions heading into the Packers’ bye, while Russell Wilson has 16 TD passes and two interceptions heading into Sunday night’s game against the Vikings.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs and Bills also are 4-0 with Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen combining for 23 touchdown passes and one interception.
The NFL, of course, is loving every minute of this.
Last Sunday, 43-year-old Tom Brady threw five touchdown passes while bringing his team back from a 24-7 deficit; 41-year-old Drew Brees led his team to 35 unanswered points in a 35-29 win; Dak Prescott rallied the Cowboys to a near victory as the first QB in NFL history with at least 450 yards passing in three straight games; and No. 1 overall draft pick Joe Burrow became the first rookie in history to throw for at least 300 yards in three straight games.
If you like defense, the NFL isn’t your friend. Teams are averaging 25.7 points per game. The record for a season is 23.6 in 1948.
The league should be commended for heeding the public’s distaste for over-officiated games. As ESPN’s Kevin Seifert noted this week, the average of 13.4 penalties per game is 28% lower than last year’s first four games, not to mention the lowest since ESPN began keeping track in 2001.
But, according to ESPN, the 93 defensive pass interference calls are up from the average number of 75.9 the previous 19 seasons while the 126 offensive holding penalties are down 56.3% from last year.
That’s a bad combination for defenses that also are hung over from being robbed of a hands-on offseason training regimen because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It certainly seems like some of the fundamentals that make defense work — just running and hitting and tackling well — [is lacking],” said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, whose 4-0 team ranks last in average yards allowed per game at 476.8. “There’s a lot of missed tackles. I don’t know if anybody is calculating missed tackles, but it seems like there’s a lot of extra yards being made after the catch and in the open field.
“That gets back to the fundamentals of running, tracking the football and playing team ball. I know we’ve had our issues in the passing game, and I think that’s why the points are up so much. I think the defenses are not to the same level as the offenses.”
Carroll, whose background is on defense, was asked if it’s more difficult to teach defense virtually.
“Yeah, I think that’s really a fair assessment, because everything about defense is reaction, and getting your timing down, in terms of fitting together on plays and all of that,” he said. “That’s all the physical part of it. I think the offenses can go a lot further than you can on defense [virtually].
“Offenses can get ahead and be farther along than defenses can.”
They sure can.
Mark Craig is an NFL and
Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL