Paper-Thin Walls: The Fallibility of an Alleged Defense
by Justin Henry
Cold Hard Football Facts' Dr. Death (@jrhwriting)
As knights they line upon guarded base
Hardened hoods that obscure face
Proves them poseurs
Stoutness vanished without a trace
Enjoying the unseasonable warmth this week, are you? It's quite welcome here at the Cold Hard Crematorium. The chill from the meat lockers does chafe at the skin, even when you've been doing this for as long as I have. So if you're like me, you enjoy the sun-dripped treat of a balmy autumn day or two.
Quite the funny little juxtaposition, these "Indian summer" spells. Feels like a humidity-free day in early June, and the hint of smolder tricks you into believing these days will last a good deal longer. You try and defy the tilting of this Earth, in spite of the orange and brown leaves that border you at all angles.
Then, three days later, you awaken to dewy grass, leaves strewn about, and a thermostat that beckons your shivering hand. It's autumn, you yokel. Live with it.
At this time in the National Football League, teams have moments like this. A win here, a win there, hoping they deodorize the foul stench of some expository losses. By November, the can is empty, and there's no more covering up the rot of failure.
Once teams accept that the only good times they'll have in a season are fleeting, they wind up here, toes presented for the tagging. We try to be upbeat about it. I commission the shipment of farm-fresh turkeys to the departed's families in Oakland and Jacksonville, since their teams usually expire by Thanksgiving.
Incredibly, neither of those doomed franchises are the subject of this lecture.
Last week, I spoke at length about the failures of offensive lines, particularly the four teams that suffered the most from their putrid play. Three of them, the Giants, Steelers, and Jaguars, were 0-3 going on 0-4, while the only team with a win, the Browns, managed to win their second straight behind the reanimation efforts of Brian Hoyer.
This week, we'll cross that scrimmage line and look at defenses, particularly the four worst defensive fronts currently patrolling professional football fields.
Just as run-blocking, giving your quarterback time, and converting third downs are tantamount to an offensive line's value, the same can be said of any defense worth its salt, with slight categorical adjustments.
Last week's discussion was on the Offensive Hog Index, and this week's is about Defensive Hog Index, or DHI. It's Cold Hard Football Facts' way of indicating the efficiency of defensive fronts, or in some cases, lack thereof.
The DHI consists of three categories:
RUSHING YARDS PER ATTEMPT: can you force the onslaught into a one-dimensional blitzkrieg? Shutting down the run, particularly early on while your offense stockpiles points, is what a winning defense does.
NEGATIVE PASS PLAY PERCENTAGE: what percentage of your opponents' dropbacks end with a sack or interception? The more pressure you bring, the better chance you have of killing enemy momentum, or stopping them dead in their tracks.
THIRD DOWN PERCENTAGE: preventing third down conversions gets your defense off the field, and allows for time to recharge. Prolonged drives can hinder defensive attrition, especially late in games when the body is weakened.
When mashed together, these three facets define a defense's potency. Potency, of course, is the anthithesis of this discussion, as I won't be expounding on virile defenses like San Francisco or Seattle or even troubled Tampa Bay. Instead, our focus will be on the four worst teams listed on the Index.
The four squads in question share a combined record of 4-12. One team is 2-2, its defense carried by its striking offense. A pair of 1-3 teams also populate this cellar, as well as an 0-4 team that you may remember from our talk on offensive deficiency.
What teams comprise this abhorsome foursome?
MINNESOTA VIKINGS (29th on DHI)
Def. Rushing YPA: 4.23 (23rd)
Negative Pass Play %: 8.16 (21st)
3rd Down %: 47.27 (29th)
DHI Rating (Avg Ranking): 24.33
A hint of symbolism in the London win over the Steelers; the victory was the first time Minnesota held an opponent under 30 points all season. Averaging 28.8 PPG means nothing when your opponents' mean is 30.8.
The loss to the Lions especially hurt, as the team isn't particularly good in the run (3.58). Yet, Reggie Bush and Joique Bell combined for 4.26 YPA. Bush also hurt the Vikes with 101 receiving yards out of the backfield; a threat they'll have to contend with twice a year.
Worse yet were the four sacks Minnesota had after just thee games. Granted, Jared Allen and company racked up five against Pittsburgh, but the Steelers' line couldn't step seven snails gliding on Heelys from getting to Ben Roethlisberger. Perhaps if currently-listed starter Matt Cassel cuts down on turnovers and three-and-outs from Samantha Steele's husband, the defense will conserve its energy better.
NEW YORK GIANTS (30th on DHI)
Def. Rushing YPA: 3.89 (12th)
Negative Pass Play %: 4.88 (31st)
3rd Down %: 50.00 (31st)
DHI Rating (Avg Ranking): 24.67
It's bad enough that the offensive line is to Eli Manning what an eyedrop bottle is to Tennessee Williams (supposed to be helpful, but proves lethal). It's worse that the defense, once vaunted for its pressure-packing line, is fizzling before our very eyes.
For one thing, the G-Men have just four sacks in four games. Not a single player has more than one, thus Jason Pierre-Paul, Mathias Kiwanuka, and Spencer Paysinger share the team lead with one apiece (Justin Tuck and Linval Joseph split a sack).
384.25 yards per game allowed is twelfth worst in the league, and ten touchdowns through the air are fourth worst. A number of defensive injuries (breakout safety Stevie Brown is on IR, for one) help explain why a once-great defense has allowed 12 receptions of 20+ yards this season (three of which were touchdowns).
ST. LOUIS RAMS (31st on DHI)
Def. Rushing YPA: 4.60 (25th)
Negative Pass Play %: 7.19 (26th)
3rd Down %: 47.17 (28th)
DHI Rating (Avg Ranking): 26.33
The last two weeks have been a nightmare for the Rams run defense, and one that threatens to linger onward. DeMarco Murray powered the Cowboys en route to the team's 193-yard afternoon, and San Francisco followed up with a 219-yard Thursday-night pounding.
The "Thunder Storm" pass rush of Robert Quinn and Chris Long have yielded 5.5 sacks (five of which are Quinn's), but the team has just two sacks among non-defensive ends. About a third of opponent runs go through the middle, so if the rush is beaten to the punch, there's very little in the way of an emergency lever.
The Rams' 28:16 time of possession on offense is seventh worst in the league, and their five defensive turnovers are tied for tenth lowest. Sam Bradford's more efficient than he has been in past years, but he's also averaging just 6.0 YPA passing, putting him near the bottom among full-time starters.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (32nd on DHI)
Def. Rushing YPA: 5.24 (30th)
Negative Pass Play %: 6.06 (30th)
3rd Down %: 42.55 (25th)
DHI Rating (Avg Ranking): 28.33
Scoring 27 points a game, and you're only at .500. Philip Rivers throws 11 touchdown passes (12, if you count his duck to Brian Cushing), and you're only at .500. Your offense ranks second in third-down percentage (50 percent), and has only given up six sacks and two picks, and you're only at .500.
Welcome to the reality of the defenseless Chargers, a team who's given up 1729 yards (third most) and forced only three turnovers (also third most). That rushing YPA average adds to the horrendousness; Dallas' 92 rushing yards this past Sunday was the lowest San Diego's allowed.
Rivers is averaging 8.4 passing YPA, but so are his opponents. That opposition is completing 68.59 percent of its passes, and San Diego has one interception to show for it: from defensive tackle Cam Thomas. Doesn't seem like the secondary is striking a whole lot of fear into quarterbacks' hearts.
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