Can defenses come back from comebacks?

October, 13, 2011
10/13/11
12:59
PM ET
Greg Garber's piece on proliferating NFL comebacks carries special interest in the NFC West.

The San Francisco 49ers lost a 10-point fourth-quarter lead in falling to Dallas. They overcame a 20-point third-quarter deficit to beat Philadelphia. The Arizona Cardinals blew a 10-point lead in the final five minutes of a defeat to the New York Giants. The Seattle Seahawks nearly overcame a 20-point second-half deficit to Atlanta, falling 30-28.

As Garber notes, the NFL has seen 18 teams overcome double-digit deficits to win, including 11 teams that overcame deficits of at least 14 points. The 49ers' big comeback at Philadelphia was one of four from at least 20 points behind, all in Weeks 2-3, to set the NFL's single-season record with nearly three months remaining.

Garber quotes 49ers general manager Trent Baalke and Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, among others, on potential reasons for so many wild swings in games this season.

Some of the increases reflect rules changes and NFL expansion.

Whisenhunt makes a good point about the lockout hurting teams with new defenses in particular. His theory: Defense requires extensive communication and coordination. One breakdown in the secondary can lead to a huge play, whereas a single mistake on offense, specifically at receiver, is less likely to doom the entire play. Quarterbacks have other options.

"For instance, when you get in a bunch package and you have their No. 1 going inside, their No. 3 outside and the No. 2 going vertical, whether you’re playing man or zone, they have a different set of rules and you have to pass those off," Whisenhunt said last week. "If you don’t, somebody is going to be running open. That’s what you’re going through. I think this year there was a lot of transition in teams. There was a lot of turnover. So you have good football players, but you have players that haven’t necessarily played together before."

I asked Cardinals cornerback Richard Marshall for answers. He touched on some of the theories Garber covered. Asked specifically about back-shoulder throws enabling offenses, Marshall attested to the difficulty teams have defending them, saying defenders were increasingly forced to play receivers' hands as the ball arrives. He also credited quarterbacks.

"You see the play that [Michael] Vick made [against the 49ers this season]?" Marshall asked. "They had him in the backfield, he ducks under a guy and throws a touchdown. You're like, 'Damn, what else can I do?' It's crazy."

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