Football has changed. Have you noticed? It used to be that the game was “three yards and a cloud of dust.” Now, it’s fifty points and a cloud of smoke. And the vapor of smoke is a good way to describe most defenses. I don’t care if you are watching on Sundays, Saturdays, or Friday nights. Nobody can stop anybody from scoring anymore.
The NFL’s best team is probably the Denver Broncos. They regularly give up point totals that would have ranked them among the worst defenses in the league not that long ago. The premiere conference in college football continues to be the SEC, but the games barely resemble anything “Bear” Bryant would recognize. Teams now score on virtually every possession. And in high school football, the final scores sound more like something that would come from a basketball gym than from a football field.
Please understand, I am not complaining. As a fan first, and a broadcaster second, I can tell you that these contests are thrilling to watch. It’s just hard to watch them, and not wonder where it’s going to go from here. Can the trend possibly continue? Is it possible the offenses will become even more explosive? And is there anything a defense can do to stop them?
That’s the real question: how can you possibly stop these dynamic passing attacks that are so en vogue at every level of the sport?
I think there are a few ways to put defense back in football. The first thing that needs to be done is acknowledge that the quarterback is no longer the most important position in the game. It is still a really important position, but savvy signal callers are not as rare as they once were. If you watch our broadcasts on CSS every week you rarely see a team that isn’t competent at that spot. The quality of coaching has improved around the southeast to the point that quarterbacks can now be trained from scratch in a way that just was not possible years ago.
So, if the quarterback position is no longer the most important position in football, what position is? It’s the guy who chases the quarterback down. The pass rusher is now the most crucial position on the field. Whether you are talking about the outside linebacker in a 3-4 or a defensive end in the 4-3 formation, the guy who gets the sacks is the guy that matters most. There are just a lot fewer of them than there are quarterbacks. Therefore, if you are a defensive coordinator looking to make a name for yourself, finding your pass rusher is the most significant thing you can do.
The next thing that defensive coaches can do to reverse the tide of the explosive offenses is to find some bigger cornerbacks. For the last few years, receivers have gotten taller and taller, but at the high school level the cornerbacks really have not kept up that pace physically. Most teams have cover guys that are mismatches compared to the receivers they are asked to check. This is a recipe for more fifty point games. A smart head coach will give his defensive assistants a chance to pick some players who we would typically see on offense and move them to the other side of the ball. Once the tall players realize that the defensive secondary is a great spot to be noticed by college recruiters, more of them will welcome the move.
Finally, those teams that want to slow down the big offenses need to realize that the “head hunter” big hitters are gone from the sport forever. The rules simply will not allow for that kind of play anymore. However, that does not mean the opportunity to be physical is gone. It just means that the definition of physical play is changing. It no longer looks like a shot to the head. Now, it is a clean tackle that is perfectly executed, and not just flailing arms that are reaching and hoping.
The bottom line is that there is still a place for defense in high school football. The teams that embrace the importance of finding the premier pass rusher, the bigger cornerbacks, and that teach quality fundamentals as we adapt to the changing nature of the game are going to be the teams that are most equipped to dominate on that side of the ball.
Luckily, we will get to see two teams like that on Friday night as we travel to Jacksonville to see Trinity Christian take on IMG Academy. I hope you will join us for the game, and I hope the defenses do too.