C. Joseph Wright: Something tells me that no one really has the correct/full answer to that question. Surely if Rob Ryan or Jason Garrett knew, they would have corrected it. That being said, there are several potential answers that seem plausible and reasonable. First, there are many people saying that opposing offenses have just ‘figured out’ Rob Ryan’s basic defensive strategy. I think that is probably at least part of the problem.
Second, I am not sure that I even buy the idea that the defense was playing much better at the beginning of the year. The only game that suggests they were better early in the year was the New England game when they gave up only 20 points. The New England game now almost seems like an anomaly. In the rest of the games, the defense seems pretty consistent: they hold weak offenses to low scoring totals (Tampa Bay 15, St. Louis 7, and Washington 16 the first time, and Buffalo 7), but allow better offenses to score more (Jets 27, San Fran 24, Detroit 20 not including the two pick-sixes, Philly 34, Washington 24, Philly 20) and the mediocre offenses are somewhere in the middle (Miami and Zona both at 19). If you throw out the NE game, then you have a defense that holds weak offenses to 15 or less, gives up around 20 to mediocre offenses, and lets decent to good offenses score more than 20. They have actually been pretty consistent.
So, I am not sure that the defense was playing better in the beginning of the year; I think that people were saying that the offense was the ‘weak link’ because of the turnovers and inability to maintain possession at the end of the Jets and Lions’ game, not because the defense was playing stellar.
In terms of assessing blame, everyone has to share a part of it. At times I thought that the pass-rush was giving QB’s too much time to pass and the secondary was playing well; more recently I have thought the pass-rush was good but the secondary was not able to hold up their end.
Will the defense’s performance change drastically this year? I highly doubt it. The defense will play better once they have a full off-season with Ryan AND they get better players. That being said, in the NFL every unit has the potential to come out and play excellent on any Sunday, so it is not impossible for the defense to have a really good day. It is also possible, but not necessarily likely, that Rob Ryan will put together some amazing game-plan that shuts down even a really good offense.
The important thing to remember is that this Team can win games without great performances from the defense. I have been saying it since August: if this defense can stop the run and avoid giving up big plays for quick scores, they will win a lot of games being a very average defense. The key is having an offense that can more than 24 points a game.
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