Nov 18, 2018; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees (9) on the sidelines in the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome

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The NFL is FUN again thanks to an offensive takeover

A look at the new era of NFL football

Seth Dunlap
November 20, 2018 - 6:28 pm
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Many observers suggested just one year ago that the NFL was past its prime and headed towards an inevitable decline from their position as the untouchable sports-behemoth in this country.  Ratings were down, social justice protests had divided fans and the country, and the NFL just didn’t feel fun anymore.

Well, the NFL in 2018 is as fun as ever thanks to an offensive revolution brought about by a bevy of incredibly talented quarterbacks and equally-brilliant play callers. 

It’s remarkable that the league’s transformation hasn’t just come on the back of one sub-group – say, young spread-offense quarterbacks.   Instead, the revolution is being led phenomenal twenty-something signal callers like Patrick Mahomes and Jared Goff along with grizzled veterans like Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger.    

There’s a similar thing happening with the league’s head coaches and play callers.  Much attention gets paid to the Rams' 32 year old uber-genius Sean McVay, but Saints head coach Sean Payton (52) and Chiefs head coachAndy Reid (60) are proving that age is no obstacle to innovative offenses in the league.

In fact, the league’s best offense probably resides just off of Bourbon Street, where Brees and Payton are redefining the phrase “age doesn’t matter.”  Brees, 39, is on pace to set single season records for quarterback rating (126.9) and completion percentage (76.9 %) while leading the league in those categories.  He also is tops in TD-INT radio at 25-1, something you’re only supposed to be able to accomplish in Madden.   The Saints lead the league in scoring (37.8 ppg) and are within striking distance of the 1950 Los Angeles Rams who holds the all-time single-season record at 38.83 points per game.

While the Saints 48-7 obliteration of the defending champion Eagles stole the show on Sunday, it was the Rams-Chiefs spectacle on Monday Night will undoubtedly be looked back upon as one of the great regular season games in NFL history.  That game, a 54-51 Rams triumph, was the first time in league history that two teams exceeded 50 points in the same game, and the 105 combined score came within a single point of setting a record for most combined points in a game since the AFL-NFL merger.

That Monday night showcase may also be looked at as the transition point into a new era of NFL football.   

The previous era was headlined generationally great defenses.  The Buccaneers modernized league defenses in the early 2000s with their “Tampa 2” schemes that every team in the league eventually implemented in some fashion.  They gave way to the Ray Lewis/Ed Reed Ravens that set a gold-standard for defensive dominance for over a decade.  Then came the Legion of Boom in Seattle, where the Seahawks became the first franchise since the merger to lead the league in defensive points allowed for four consecutive seasons.

Then there are the Patriots, who built their dynasty on the back of ferocious defenses designed by Bill Belichick, likely the greatest defensive schemer football has ever seen.  Yes, the Patriots don’t win five Super Bowls without Tom Brady. However, the backbone of their dynasty has always been defense.  The Patriots have been top-10 in defensive scoring a dozen times in the Brady-Belichick era, and were never worse than eighth in that category during their championship seasons. Brady doesn't have five rings without Belichick's defenses either.

There was the occasional outlier.  Baltimore won a title during the 2012 season with an aging defense that was 12th in the league in scoring defense.  The Saints were 20th in that category during their 2009 Super Bowl season.  Those, however, were the exceptions, not the norm.  NFL football has truly lived by the old adage that defense wins championships for the past 20 years.

That is changing in 2018.  None of the league’s five best scoring defenses are among the five Vegas-favorites to win the Super Bowl.  Chicago, currently the fourth in scoring defense, checks in at 16/1 in those Vegas odds, good for sixth best.   Meanwhile, the Saints have the best odds to win a championship at 3-1, but are only 15th in scoring defense.  The Rams, who have the second-best championship odds at 4-1, have surrendered an astounding 127 points in the past three weeks and have the 22nd rated scoring defense in the league.  The Chiefs are 28th in the league, allowing 26.7 points per game.  Even the usually-solid Patriots defense is hovering in the middle of the league at #14 in this category.

Astute football observers across the country shouldn’t be surprised.  The best high school and college football programs have quietly adopted spread-offense philosophies over the past two decades, which means the players coming out of those systems are ready to run a similar system at the professional level.   Previously, you had long-time NFL scouts, coaches, and executives that scoffed at the notion of implementing these types of schemes into professional offenses.  That hesitancy has dissolved recently.

The Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl last year playing an offense that would be pretty familiar in Norman, OK or Lubbock, TX.   The 2018 Rams and Chiefs look like they belong in the Big-12 or Pac-12.  The Saints offense is tougher to define, as it certainly doesn’t look anything like a traditional pro-style offense, yet isn’t quite a copy/paste from what fans see on Saturdays.  The Franken-offense head coach Sean Payton is designing probably deserves its own classification and catchy nickname. 

Much like technology, modern football offenses are evolving at light-speed.  The NFL is no longer beholden to an era of defense-first team building, ground-it-out playoff slogs, and backwards thinking front offices. .  The league has entered an unprecedented era of offensive firepower and ingenuity. It feels like the NFL is ready to be really fun once again.

Join Seth Dunlap on "The Last Lap" weeknights from 8-11 p.m. CDT on WWL Radio

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