D-Gaps: picking on pass D

November, 18, 2010
11/18/10
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The inability of NFL defenses to stop increasingly complex and proficient passing attacks was never more evident than in Week 10, when 13 different quarterbacks threw for more than 300 yards and QBs averaged a 96.3 passer rating, both league records according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

But which teams are contributing to the league-wide decline of effective passing defense and which, if any, are bucking the trend?

The logical place to start is with the Houston Texans, surrendering a league-high 301.3 passing yards per game. They're on pace to allow 4,820 yards through the air in 2010, which would be nearly 300 yards more than any team in NFL history (the 1995 Atlanta Falcons allowed 4,541).

The Texans pass defense isn't one of the league's worst solely because they're giving up yardage in chunks. No team has allowed more touchdown passes than the Texans (22) this season, and only the Buffalo Bills have fewer interceptions than Houston (5). Gary Kubiak's club is the first in NFL history to allow 22 pass TDs with fewer than five interceptions in its first nine games of the season.

While the Texans defense has been exposed by all lengths of passes this season, struggles against the deep ball are mostly to blame for the Jacksonville Jaguars’ 29th-ranked pass defense. The Jags have been decimated by passes thrown at least 20 yards downfield in 2010. Opponents are completing 56.3 of their deep passes against Jacksonville and averaging more than 21 yards on such attempts, making the Jaguars the league’s worst pass defense against the deep ball this season.

Embattled members of the Jaguars secondary would surely be among the first to point out that it's tough to cover receivers when the quarterback has ample time to set up in the pocket or when a team is forced to send extra rushers after the QB. Jacksonville has just five sacks when not blitzing in 2010, more than only three NFL teams.

That might be a reason the Jaguars have blitzed on 39 percent of passing plays this year, the seventh-highest rate in the NFL, as well as a contributing factor to the struggles of the Jags secondary against deep passes.

But it's not all doom and gloom among NFL pass defenses. Some have found ways to succeed in the year of the quarterback:

• The Philadelphia Eagles lead the NFL with 16 interceptions, their most at this point in the season since 1989.
• The New Orleans Saints are surrendering an NFL-low 166.3 passing yards per game, including just 68 to the Panthers in Week 10, the best single-game performance by their pass defense since the 2006 season.
• The Bills haven't done much well in 2010, but no team has been better at preventing the big completion. Buffalo has allowed just one pass play of 40 or more yards this season, tied with the Patriots for the fewest in the league.

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