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Defenses get by with a little help from their offensive friends


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By Pat Kirwan | NFL.com

Senior Analyst

It is time to look at the game inside the game. The results from Week 6 remind us that the offense has to work with the defense if success is going to be the final outcome. The question is: How must the offense support its defense?

Modern defenses are blitzing, zone dogging and running to the ball at such a pace that they can't afford to go right back on the field when the offense goes three plays and out. Remember, defensive players also make up the core of the special teams units. If defenders barely get a water break and have to run right back out onto the field, then they will not play defense the way it has to be played. What the defense needs from its offense are opening-drive scores, drives that consume five minutes or more, 10-play drives that end in points. And when the defense forces a turnover, the offense must go out and get points.

Try to watch the sidelines of a game when the defense forces a three-and-out series and its offense can't capitalize. Or when a defensive player recovers a fumble or intercepts a pass and his offense can't parlay it into points. When you see a defense with a solid first half run out of gas in the second half, it's usually because the offense couldn't stay on the field and the defensive players have punched themselves out. A good defense can go a lot further than a great defense if the offense has its back.

Here's a look at the offensive units that are doing the best and the worst when it comes to helping the defenses do their job.

Team First-poss. pts. Avg. pts./first poss.

Denver 21 3.5

Dallas 20 3.3

Arizona 17 2.8

Atlanta 17 2.8

Philadelphia 17 2.8

First-possession scores

There's nothing like an opening-drive score to set the tone for the game. Right out of the box, there is pressure on the opposing offense and the defense can make its calls accordingly.

There have only been 25 touchdowns and 30 field goals scored in 176 opening drives this year, which averages out to 1.5 points per opening drive. The combined record of the five teams that have scored the most points in their opening possessions is 19-11.

When it comes to the worst teams in this category, there are five teams that have yet to score a single point in their opening drives: St. Louis, N.Y. Jets, Houston, Detroit and Cincinnati. The combined record of these teams is 5-19.

Team Total drives Three-and-outs Pct.

N.Y. Giants 50 5 10

New Orleans 70 9 13

Arizona 65 9 14

Atlanta 65 11 17

Houston 55 8 15

Three-and-out drives

These are killers for the defense. They don't physically recover from the previous defensive series, they don't get time to make necessary adjustments, and it leads to frustration from the defensive players.

So far this season, NFL teams have gone three-and-out on 23 percent of offensive drives. The five teams that have done it the least go three-and-out at a rate of just 14 percent.

The worst teams in this category are St. Louis, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Seattle and Detroit. These teams go three-and-out on 34 percent of their combined drives. Combined record of this reams: 3-27.

Team Drives 10-play drives TDs/FGs Scoring % Pts.

Denver 64 13 7/4 84.6 62

Arizona 65 12 7/4 91.7 62

Dallas 69 11 7/2 81.8 55

New Orleans 70 12 7/2 75 54

Green Bay 69 12 5/5 83.3 50

10-play drives

Conversely, long drives give defensive players time for physical recovery and coaching adjustments, and they also make opposing offenses feel the pressure of the clock. Based on this season's results to date, a 10-play drive has a 41 percent chance of resulting in a touchdown, and an 80 percent chance of resulting in some points.

Even the 20 percent of 10-play drives that doesn't lead to points usually puts the opponent on a long field. Here's a look at the teams that have scored the most points from drives of 10 or more plays:

These five teams have a combined record of 18-12. The worst five teams for producing 10-play drives are Buffalo, St. Louis, Oakland, Seattle, and Detroit. These teams average only five 10-play drives and 19 points off those drives. The combined record of these teams is 7-18.

Note: Two weeks ago, the sideline mic caught Randy Moss telling Matt Cassel to "think touchdowns not field goals." And when it comes to drives of 10 or more plays, no truer words have been spoken. The Patriots, Bears, 49ers, and Ravens are all above average for producing 10-play drives -- but they settle for too many field goals. These four teams only score a touchdown on 17 percent of their long drives, and that puts pressure back on the defense.

Team Def. takeaways Pts. off turnovers

Green Bay 12 55

Tampa Bay 13 55

San Diego 10 54

Chicago 11 46

New Orleans 9 42

N.Y. Jets 10 42

Capitalizing on turnovers

Any defensive player will tell you his main job is to score on defense or get the ball back for the offense so they can score. Through six weeks, NFL defenses have gotten the ball back for the offense 273 times -- an average of nine turnovers per team. Here's a look at the offenses that have done the best job of converting those turnovers to points.

Not much is tougher for a defense to stomach than getting a turnover and then watching the offense do nothing with it. Kansas City's defense, for example, has 11 takeaways but the Chiefs' offense has only generated 10 points from those ensuing drives.

Even the best defenses can't overcome the pressures of opposing offenses without a little help. Before you just blame the defense for giving up points and losing games, look to see how much their offense has let them down. Take Seattle for example. The Seahawks' offense is at or near the bottom for 10-play drives and 5-minute drives, and near the top of three-and-out drives. Meanwhile, the Arizona Cardinals are close to the top in scoring on opening possession, 10-play drives and avoiding three-and-outs -- all good signs they are going to have a good year as a team.

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