The NFL is all about offense. That may seem like an obvious statement, so let me make it a bit bolder: being good at defense does not really matter anymore. Sure, it helps to be able to rush the passer, cover top receivers, stop the run. But having a bad defense is fine, as long as it is appropriately opportunistic, getting big plays and turnovers a time or two a game.
Don’t believe me? Look at week 11 Monday Night Football. The Chiefs and Rams combined for 105 points. Three touchdowns came from the defense, but a whole lot more came from simple, newfangled offensive carnage. Those two teams entered the game with the best combined record between opponents in a decade. They are widely thought to be two of the best, if not the best teams in all of football. And neither can play a lick of pass defense, with the exception of the occasional monumental turnover forced. Could that flaw be fatal down the road? Perhaps, but the way the game is called, both from an officiating and coaching standpoint, means that being a team that stresses scoring a lot of points carries far more weight than one that strives to prevent points above all.
There is no precedent for today’s NFL. You cannot point to last year’s Eagles or Jaguars or Vikings and say “what about (insert team here)?” This year brought a different game from any we have seen in our lifetimes. There are realistically three teams that can be labeled “Great” right now: Kansas City, Los Angeles and New Orleans. A handful more can be called “Really Good.” A lot are average, a handful are very bad. But looking at the elite of the elite this year, what do they have in common? Roster construction. It goes like this:
- Get a really good (or at least really effective) quarterback (check for all three).
- Protect him (all three have above-average lines).
- Give him an arsenal (check).
- Have an offensive genius as a coach (check).
After that, everything else is gravy. New Orleans has a lot of good defensive players, yet they rank among the worst pass defenses in football. In fact, all three of the aforementioned elite teams are in the bottom half of the league in passing yards per game and passing touchdowns allowed. Yet their combined record is 28-4. Why? Because having a good defense is no longer a priority to being good in today’s NFL, at least during the regular season.
That can change, of course. Maybe the Bears or Texans end up making a deep playoff run and prove all of this wrong (though both those teams have effective quarterbacks and dangerous weapons). But right now, the teams that most resemble Super Bowl contenders are offensive juggernauts with defense coming in a distant second.
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Which brings us to the Vikings. Rick Spielman built a great roster for 2017. The defense is loaded at every level, the offense has play-makers and he got a quarterback thought to be the missing link. But here they are, 5-4-1, middle of the pack.
Go back to the list of must-haves to be a successful team in 2018. How many boxes do the Vikings check? They hoped the quarterback would become great in Minnesota, but he has yet to reach that. The offensive line is spotty at best. The hotshot offensive coordinator was subtly but publicly criticized by the head coach for his gameplans. All they have going for them are Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, which while a great combination is hardly a full arsenal.
It is not Spielman’s fault that the league changed right after he built a sturdy structure in Minnesota. But if the Vikings fall short this year, it will be up to him to adjust to where the league is going. That means heading straight to the moon on the shoulders of offense.
–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and Follow @samc_smith.
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