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Air apparent: Plenty of passing expected in NFL Playoffs
Among the reasons cited for all of the big plays this season: During the lockout, which cut down on formal offseason work, it was easier for players on offense than those on defense to get together for informal sessions; the new collective bargaining agreement reduced contact in practice, leading to poorer tackling; emphasis on enforcing rules against illegal hits made some defensive players more tentative; and the general trend over the years of rules changes favoring players on offense.
Hall of Fame defensive back Ronnie Lott raised another factor: increased emphasis on finding top players for the offense.
“Take a look at [New England’s Rob] Gronkowski. You go, ‘Wow!’ All of a sudden, pretty much every team has an athlete like that at the tight end position. At fullback, too. And everybody has not one, but two or more good receivers. Look at Green Bay, and all the people that touch the ball for them,” said Lott, who played in the 1980s and 1990s. “When I came into the league, there was one team like that: the San Diego Chargers. They had Kellen Winslow, John Jefferson, Charlie Joiner, Chuck Muncie, with Dan Fouts at the helm. Now you look at teams like Detroit [and say], ‘That guy is great. That guy is great. That guy is productive. Look at what that guy has done.’ Now it’s all about the piling up of weapons that each team has, and the unique characteristics that each team brings.”
Still, Lott wasn’t so sure there will be what he called “epic scoring” in these playoffs, figuring the defenses will find a way to catch up.
As for the primacy of offense over defense, it’s worth noting where this season’s two No. 1-seeded teams ranked in yards allowed: The NFC’s Packers (15-1) were 32nd among the league’s 32 teams; the AFC’s Patriots (13-3) were 31st.
“Personally, I think that we’re going to step up. Obviously, there’s going to be a lot of high-powered offenses in these playoffs,” Green Bay cornerback Tramon Williams said. “We know we haven’t played to our expectations, but we still have that belief that we can.”
There are, of course, playoff teams that know they can play good defense. The Steelers (12-4), for example, gave up the fewest yards and points in the NFL. The San Francisco 49ers (13-3) were fourth in yards allowed, second in points allowed, and didn’t allow a TD rushing until their 15th game. The Baltimore Ravens (12-4), Houston Texans (10-6), Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) and Denver Broncos (8-8) also rely on their ability to stop teams.
That’s part of why the wild card opener between the Bengals and Texans on Saturday isn’t expected to follow the tons-of-yards-and-points trend. Another key factor: It’s the first playoff game in NFL history pitting two starting rookie QBs (Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton and Houston’s T.J. Yates).
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