Some NFL defenses leaking bad

Nov 30, 2004 3:46 AM

Like a giant leak on a sinking ship, one of the first signs of a poor pro football team is weak run defense.

Stopping the run is essential to building toward a championship. A year ago the Carolina Panthers were 11th in the league at stopping the run behind its fearsome front four. They met the Patriots in the Super Bowl, a club that was No. 4 against the run.

The year before, the Oakland Raiders were No. 3 against the run while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the No. 1 overall defense, a solid sixth against the run. Sometimes numbers can be a bit deceptive, as in the case of the 2002 Raiders. Their run defense wasn’t as good as the stats suggest. The offense was so explosive that opposing teams were down early and often had to abandon the ground game in an effort to catch up.

Still, stopping the run in some capacity is essential for success in football. Think about how many third and short situations you see over the course of a game. If a team can’t stop the run, opponents can simply run the ball all day long, picking up first downs and controlling the clock.

The first thing that stands out is that these are not upper echelon teams. None have winning records and would need to get red-hot to make a run at a playoff spot.

Second, these teams are a combined 33-48 ATS. They struggle to win, both straight up and against the number. This is not what owner Al Davis had in mind when he went out and spent a bundle on veterans Warren Sapp and Ted Washington to shore up a run defense that was last in the NFL last season. They’ve improved a little, but Davis certainly hasn’t gotten his money’s worth.

The Panthers and Bears actually have decent defensive talent along the line, but injuries have taken an important toll, such as DT Kris Jenkins. Chicago hasn’t had a strong offense, so opponents are rarely way behind against the Bears, which means they’ve been able to stick to running the ball. That, plus the loss of LB Brian Urlacher, has contributed to Chicago’s poor run stats.

Another thing that stands out is that teams poor against the run are a combined 13-28 ATS at home! Struggling against the run can begin to eat away at that precious edge known as "home field."

Just as important is yards allowed per rushing attempt. This often gives a good indication of how strong a run defense really is, quantifying how many yards per average each opposing runner gets. Currently the worst teams in this category are the Cowboys, Cardinals, Rams, Saints and Vikings. All but the Vikings have struggled badly this season.

Dallas has been particularly disappointing. A team that was No. 1 in total defense in 2003 (No. 4 against the run). Dallas is 4-7 ATS overall, virtually no shot at the playoffs, and 3-3 ATS in home games. Contrast that with a year ago when Bill Parcells led the surprising Cowboys into the playoffs, and you can get a good sense of how vital stopping the run is.

Only the Vikings have a realistic shot at the playoffs from that list. Minnesota had a second-half swoon a year ago with a run defense that finished 17th in the NFL, and last in yards allowed per carry (4.9). The Vikings may still make the playoffs, but history had not been kind to teams that are not stout against the run in the postseason.