Contraversial, but so true. I submit to you that over the past 8 years or so since the introduction of the illegal contact rule that defenses have been neutered to the point where it is much harder for a defensive player to make an impact on the game vs an offensive player that scores touchdowns.
There are two main reasons for this:
1. A deliberate decision by the NFL to tilt the rules towards facilitating a higher scoring games and more explosive passing plays.
2. The risk that the league is facing vs litigation from former players for Encephilitus and various head wounds and concussions risks that players face when they leave the game. Junior Seau's recent death hasn't helped matters, so these rule changes and calls to protect the NFL against litigation is only likely to increase in the future.
As a direct result of the above factors Defensive backs, linebackers, and Pass Rushers have all been effected to various degrees making them less effective than they used to be, and less important than players that score touchdowns.
-Illegal contact Rule. This has made it much easier for Receivers to get off the line of scrimmage, and much easier for the receiver to get separation and much harder to cover. Remember the old really good defenses like the old Patriots, Ravens, Steelers, etc.? Man, they used to be able to mug the receivers, and it was very likely that a good defense could stuff a really explosive passing attack because the receivers could be jammed past 5 yards, they could be crushed if they dared came over the middle, and the QBs would have to hold on to the ball longer giving the pass rush more time to get to the QB. It's not that way anymore at all. Even the very best defenses are fairly limited in their ability to truly shut down the best offenses in the league.
-Emphasis on Defenseless receiver rule and increased helmet to helmet calls with increased frequency and fine sizes has made defenses much more trepidatious with regards to how they hit receivers. The net result of this is that receivers no longer have a fear of going over the middle and are no longer intimidated, and there is an increase in personal foul penalties. Again, advantage offense.
-Pass interference is called far more frequently than it used to be. Advantage Offense.
-The horse collar tackle rule has resulted in more personal foul penalties and has effected the way players can be tackled from behind
-Roughing the passer. The NFL has put in tight controls to protect the quarterbacks which has resulted in an increased volume of roughing the passer penalties each of which is 15 yards a pop. In fact, some of the QBs have actually escaped from some potential sacks because some defensive players have been a bit more timid than they should have to be to hit these quarterbacks so they have been able to escape.
The only rule on the side of the defense that I can think of that has been introduced in the past few years to offset all of the above mentioned new rules is that now defenders can push a receiver out of bounds when he is in the air. That's not nearly enough to offset the massive advantage that all of the above rules have given the offense and the massive disadvantage that these same rules have bestowed upon the defense.
So what does it all mean? Primarily you need to build a team that takes advantages of these rules and has an explosive passing game that scores more touchdowns than field goals first, and then the second priority should be your defense simply because the rules are stacked against the impact that these players can have vs the players that can score touchdowns on the offensive side of the ball. Now before you tear me a new one and tell me I don't know what I'm talking about, you need to hear me out first.
You see, all the way from when Jimmy Johnson to Dave Wandstadt to Nick Saban, to Bill Parcells/Morono, the emphasis on this football team has been defense. It seems like all of these guys were defensive guys and they felt like if they built the defensive side of the ball first that they could have an offense that simply didn't make many mistakes but that didn't have to necessarily have to be explosive in the passing game they could win. In fact, offensively, the emphasis on offense was actually on the running game. Now I know that some of that was because we haven't had a franchise QB here since Marino, but also, I think that in JJ and Wandstadt's era, you could win by running the football and playing superior defense. That all started to change in 2004 with the introduction of the illegal contact rule, but we didn't change the way we built our football team to reflect that in the way we drafted or signed free agents. Parcells and Saban still had this philosophy for constructing a football team that in the NFL at least had become outdated and they didn't change their model it to take advantage of the new rules changes that were steadily introduced to tilt the balance of power towards the offense.
Let's examine 4 remaining playoff teams and some of the teams that they had to beat in the last round to advance. What do they all have in common?
Patriots - Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski (I know he's currently hurt, but he's still a weapon), Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Danny Woodhead, Brandon Lloyd, Deon Branch.
Okay, so they may have one of the greatest QBs to ever have played the game. But count how many legitimate weapons that he has to throw to, or to run the football to take some pressure off and create balance. I count 8 really solid weapons that can attack every blade of grass on the football field. What defense can actually stop them in today's NFL? Easy answer. None. You have to have an offense that can keep up with them and hope you win the turnover battle which has as much to do with luck as skill, play a perfect game, but you have to score, score, and score. And I mean Touchdowns, not Field Goals.
What about their defense? Well, they added Aqib Talib at cornerback, and he has helped with their passing defense, they have Vince Willfork in the middle who is disruptive and a load in the run game, and they have a couple of nice pieces at linebacker. The biggest contribution these players made this year is really in the turnover battle, but again, that can't be counted on. Alot of that has to do with luck and who you are playing against, but if you can get turnovers on a consistent basis it will help you, but sometimes that's more bad decisions or lack of ball security by the other team than anything that your defense does, it just has to make the play when it has the opportunity. However, I think when you evaluate the Patriots as a team it is not a difficult conclusion to make that the main reason they are so dangerous is because of their offense, not their defense which is really just a complimentary piece, but they don't necessarily need to rely on it to win. Their defense can have a bad game, but it is still likely that they will win if their offense clicks like they usually do, but the same can't necessarily be said if things are the other way around.
San Francisco 49ers Offense -
Collin Kapernick, Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss, Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, and the best offensive line in football.
To be fair, Kapernick should count as two weapons considering the ability he has displayed in the running game, but they have two really good receivers in the slot and on the outside, Crabtree can go deep as well, they have one of the best tight ends in football to use along the seams and in the red zone, and they have one of the best backs in football who can run through the tackles and huge holes that their offensive line makes for him as well as in the flat out of the back field in the passing game. Not quite as many weapons as the patriots, but they can attack every blade of grass in the passing and running game, and they have an extra element of mobility and electricity with their young QB who I wanted us to draft by the way but that's another story.
Look, they have one of the best defenses in football. They have Patrick Willis and Justin Smith, so they can get after the passer, defend the run pretty well and are generally considered a solid unit. Does anyone think that it would be unlikely that the Patriots or Falcons will score under 30 points because of this defense? I say, not bloody likely. Look how the goal posts have moved as to what our standards once were as to what a good defense could do. Remember when the Bucaneers held the greatest show on turf to like 13 points? Or remember those old Ravens defenses the early part of last decade? Those days are gone I tell you, defense has been emasculated, castrated, and neutered.
i'm going to skip the Atlanta Falcons and the Ravens because they are both pretty much similar.
Here's what all of these teams have in common: Franchise Quarterback, Multiple receiving threats in the slot, deep threats, stud tight end, stud running back(s) who can pound it and catch it out of the back field, and solid defenses that they don't necessarily rely on as much as their offenses to win games. Now, I'm not saying that a defense can't make plays that can help determine victory or defeat. Rahim Moore from the Broncos comes to mind. But, it never should've come down to that, but that's another story entirely.
What I am saying is that you cannot compete in the NFL against the very best teams without the following:
-Franchise QB, at Least two or three wide receivers - Possession, Slot, and deep threat, at least one Stud tight end to threaten the seams and be a true red zone threat, and at least one solid back, preferably two that can protect, run between the tackles and be a threat in the passing game and you need a decent but not necessarily great offensive line.
You don't need a great defense. You need a great offense, this a fact. Green Bay could've beaten San Francisco and they don't have a great defense. But with their Quarterback and the weapons he has they ALWAYS have a decent chance.
Therefore, if you believe what your powers of observation are telling you, then I say we need to prioritize with money and draft picks the things we don't have in free agency and the draft on offense first. I think we have a good QB prospect, but I'd draft another prospect because we probably can't afford to keep Matt Moore and he probably wants to start somewhere and you should always have a stable of young developmental QB prospects that you are developing.
So, all of the above factors are why this is what I think we should do this off season:
12th pick - The absolute only picks that make sense at this position are Tight end or receiver. The reason is, they are both the absolute biggest needs for us, and are critical for Tannehill's develoment and because at this position we can probably get the top prospect at each of those positions. This means if we go Tight End, either Zack Ertz, or Tyler Eifert, whichever one of those guys the scouts think are better. Or alternatively, let's get a receiver, Keenan Alan, Terrance Williams, Justin Hunter, or whomever the scouts rate as the best fit for our system.
Personally, I am kind of leaning towards the tight end unless we sign one in free agency just because a receiver will be easier to find in the second round.
2nd round picks - Receiver or tight end with one depending upon what we did with the first round pick, and a offensive tackle or guard with our second pick.
3rd round picks - Offensive tackle or guard and cornerback with the other pick
Free agency - Sign a WR like Jennings or Wallace, a guard like Andy Levitre if he's available, and Derek Cox from Jacksonville
Our own Free Agents - Sign Hartline, Starks, Bush, and Long if he is affordable, otherwise let him go. I would resign Sean Smith if the price is right, those are the critical signings.
Basically, our defense is good enough to win, it's our offense that sucks and needs to be heavily invested in, the game has changed and we need to adapt to take advantage of the way the rules are tilted towards the passing game in the modern nfl era.