By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) Game, set and match.
Offense wins; defense loses.
The days when a powerhouse NFL defense would come in and shutdown a high-powered offense are in the past.
It’s just not going to happen.
The game has become too explosive and quarterbacks are simply too accurate. The back shoulder throw makes it virtually impossible to cover good receivers one-on-one and it has taken the air out of the defensive balloon.
There were a record 791 points scored in the first week of the season.
While defenses are not going to dominate, good defensive teams can still have an impact.
Teams like the 49ers, Giants, Jets, Raven, Bears and Steelers can still make things happen on the defensive end.
Not by shutting down an opponent, but by coming up with one or two key stops per game where you break the momentum of a superior offensive team.
The 49ers did it in Week 1 when they got the best of the Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. The Giants failed as they could not slow Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys.
Vic Fangio is the defensive coordinator of the 49ers. San Francisco was the darling of many preseason publications as the team that would end up with the Vince Lombardi Trophy in February.
The Niners do not play the NFL’s version of Arena Football. They run the ball more than they throw it and they play defense. The 49ers have outstanding defensive players like Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, Carlos Rogers and Donte Whitner.
Yet Fangio has no illusions about fielding a defense that will do to opposing offenses what was done in past generations. There are no more Steel Curtains, Blue Walls or Purple People Eaters. There are no longer defenses that compare with the 1985 Bears.
All of those units have been NFL legends for generations. Now it seems that no team will ever approach those levels again.
Fangio believes that rule changes going back two and three decades have favored the offense. The creative minds have also gone to the offensive side of the game. That’s why you see three- and four-WR sets. That’s why there are empty backfields and that’s why so many teams want tight ends who can streak down the field and make big plays.
There are simply too many offensive weapons and the gameplans have improved each year.
At the same time, tackling has become a lost art. Defensive players don’t hit hard in practice very often and that hurts in games.
The 49ers don’t hit the way the Giants did when Lawrence Taylor donned uniform No. 56 or the way the Bears did when Richard Dent curled around the corner wearing his big No. 95, but they hit harder than just about any other team in the league when practicing.
They run a tougher training camp under Jim Harbaugh and they come out of the gate much faster than their competitors.
So they may not be an all-time great defense, but they are probably the best out there.
The Giants are close with their explosive front four. The Jets have the best cornerback duo in the league in Darelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie. The Ravens have slipped on the defensive end but they can still come up with big plays and big hits, thanks to Ed Reed, Ray Lewis and Haloti Ngata.
The Bears can also impact the game on defense with Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher and Charles Tillman. Urlacher and Tillman have to overcome injuries. The Steelers still need Troy Polamalu and James Harrison to intimidate opposing offenses.
Interestingly, the Patriots appear to have gotten the lesson about getting key stops on defense. They were a mess last year, finishing 31st last year in total yards allowed. In Week 1 against the Titans, the Pats held Chris Johnson to four yards on 11 carries and only allowed 20 rushing yards.
If the Pats can make stopping the run its defensive signature, they may join these top teams who can win with defense.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.