Bears

Lindholm: Is Defense Dead In The NFL?

Mike Singletary. (Credit: Jonathan Daniel /Allsport)

Mike Singletary. (Credit: Jonathan Daniel /Allsport)

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By Scott Lindholm-

(CBS) It’s a new day in the NFL, one that seriously brings into question the importance of defense. This chart shows the gradual increase in points per game and yardage per game from 1970 through this year:

(Table created by Scott Lindholm. Info from

(Table created by Scott Lindholm.)

Adapted from data at pro-football-reference.com

This chart shows how the Bears ranked in both points scored and points allowed from 1970-2013. In both cases, the closer to 1 the better:

(Table created by Scott Lindholm.)

(Table created by Scott Lindholm.)

Adapted from data at pro-football-reference.com

As every Bears fan can attest, it’s been a rare year in which both the offense and defense were among the best in the league other than the obvious examples of 2006 and 1985. The Bears have consistently been among the best defenses in football, but a potent offense was much more difficult to achieve.

An argument can be made that going into 2013, the Bears defense was running on fumes–Brian Urlacher retired, Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman and Julius Peppers are all 32 or older and new talent like Shea McClellin and Stephen Paea haven’t developed as hoped.

But in today’s NFL, does it matter? The short answer is yes–the best defensive teams in 2013 are having good years, but every single one of these teams has a solid offense, with the possible exception of the Ravens. Having an average defense is far different than one that allows a score on almost every drive–through last Sunday Bears opponents have scored on 64 of 160 drives (40%), with 39 touchdowns and 25 field goals. That’s how a team ends up 28th in points allowed.

As I wrote last week, the Bears have plenty of cap space to work with even if they retain Jay Cutler through franchise tag or new contract. They have no shortage of players whose contracts are up after this year, but the question becomes just how much should be spent on defense.

In the modern NFL, can a team have a stellar defense and have success? As long as quarterbacks are getting premium dollars, with wide receivers not far behind and tight ends poised to join that group very soon, that money has to come from somewhere. It’s already being reallocated from running backs, but no team is willing to try to put together an offensive line on the cheap.

There won’t be highly-paid safeties, perhaps one well-compensated defensive end or rushing linebacker. Take a look at how teams are allocating their dollars at overthecap.com to see how teams are spending on offense and defense. This chart adapts that data and shows the percentage of dollars allocated to offense in 2013 by team:

(Table created by Scott Lindholm.)

(Table created by Scott Lindholm.)

Is the NFL headed down the path toward the Arena Football League? It’s too soon to make a definitive conclusion, but the NFL is going counter to other pro sports where defense has gained prominence in recent years. Until rule changes are undertaken which allow defense to be played like it was even 10 years ago, the points will continue to rise. It will make for a very interesting game on Sunday evening:

Bears Offense – 2nd in point scored

Eagles Defense – 17th in points allowed

Bears Defense – 28th in points allowed

Eagles Offense – 7th in points scored

In 2013 the Bears have allowed 30 or more points in 5 of the 14 games. This isn’t unusual–it happened in 2010, 2007, but then one has to go back to 1997 to find a similar number (7). The NFL is on pace to have around 140 such games in 2013, up from 95 in 2005, about a 50% increase in such games. Is defense dead? No, but it’s not doing so well. The successful teams going forward will have high-powered offenses coupled with adequate, middle-of-the-pack defenses. It’s the new NFL, not anything at all like the old NFL.

Scott Lindholm is a columnist for CBSChicago.com and 670TheScore.com and frequent contributor to The Boers and Bernstein Show, known affectionately as Scott from Davenport. You can follow him on Twitter @ScottLindholm.