Commentary

Teams eye faster pace, more plays

Mailbag: Offensive trend could be bolstered by more penalties

Updated: July 21, 2014, 9:17 PM ET
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Two themes are starting to emerge as teams open training camps.

On offense, more teams are trying to quicken the pace in order to run more plays. Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy recently said he wants to run 75 plays per game after averaging 67.2 last year. The Denver Broncos (72.1) and New England Patriots (70.4) were the only two teams to average more than 70 plays per game last season.

I wouldn't be surprised if the number of teams averaging 70-plus plays increases to at least six. Chip Kelly has had an entire offseason to work with Nick Foles, so expect the Philadelphia Eagles to jump from 65.9 plays per game into the 70s. The Washington Redskins were at 69.2 plays per game last year and expect to boost that number. Doug Marrone is in his second year at Buffalo and averaged 69.8 plays last season even though quarterback EJ Manuel wasn't completely healthy.

Others are expected to quicken the pace and will spend training camp and preseason games working on the timing.

On defense, the trend is trying to adjust technique in pass coverage. Word came out of the officials' camp in Dallas on Friday that the league is going to put an emphasis on calling more penalties in pass coverage. Former vice president of officiating Mike Pereira tweeted Friday that officials are being asked to call more interference, holding and illegal contact penalties.

The number of illegal contact penalties has been dropping from 72 in 2011 to 63 in 2012 to just 38 last season.

Officials haven't been gun-shy about throwing defensive interference flags. More than 200 have been called in each of the past three years.

Teams such as the Seattle Seahawks and Patriots, among others, will have to adjust. The Steelers were among the league leaders in defensive coverage penalties because they play tight coverage. The Patriots signed Brandon Browner and Darrelle Revis to do the same.

The idea is to create more offense. Scoring is already at an all-time high, but the NFL doesn't want scoring and offensive production to drop off. The Seahawks won the Super Bowl with their "Legion of Boom" defense. While it was fun to see defense back on the podium, the NFL doesn't want to see the sport go the way of baseball, which is dominated by pitching and low-scoring games.

The themes this year will be more offensive plays and defenses with a harder chance of stopping them.

From the inbox

Q: I find Roger Goodell's suggestion that the Raiders share a stadium with my 49ers [to be unappealing]. Only thing worse would be sharing a stadium with the Seahawks. [If] he really wants an L.A. team maybe he should personally pay for the Raiders to move to L.A. Or he could lease out Candlestick before it is demolished.

Matt in Richmond, Virginia

[+] EnlargeMel Tucker
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesMel Tucker needs to get his defense playing near the caliber of the Bears' offense to stave off speculation about his job.

A. I can't see an arrangement being worked out for the Raiders to play in Levi's Stadium. First, the Raiders would have to rent the stadium, and I'm sure they couldn't generate the type of revenue they would receive in another stadium. I would consider that move a last resort. The Raiders are on a year-to-year lease in Oakland's O.co Coliseum. The city of Oakland doesn't have the money to put up around $500 million to build a new stadium. That's why it has worked out a tentative 10-year lease with the Oakland A's. Raiders owner Mark Davis just has to wait for the right opportunity, which could mean a move to Los Angeles.

Q: The Bears' defense was one of the worst in the league last year. I believe they were third from last. Do you think Mel Tucker's job is on the line, and should they switch out of the 4-3 Tampa Two defense?

Gerald in Indianapolis

A: I think Tucker is a very good coach, but if the defense isn't better, the Bears might go for another coordinator. Wade Phillips is available, and I could see him being an option. The Bears have a talented offense. The success or failure of the defense will determine their season. The talent level of the defense last year was so bad that it was hard to judge how well Tucker did. There is only so much that can be done.

Q: We keep hearing all this talk of the NFL moving to Europe. Then I watched some World Cup games and saw the culture of that sport and the fan experience with the player celebrations after a score, etc., at a time when the NFL is going the opposite way of "fun" in every way, including celebrations, big hits, etc. How do they really expect that culture to embrace it at the level we do? Is the NFL's arrogance getting in its way? I grew up playing football, Division II in college, and live, breathe, eat football, but when I sit back and think about being a "new" customer to the sport, I'm not sure it's that fun from a fan experience.

Mark in Phoenix

A: That's why the NFL is occasionally called the "No Fun League." I don't think the league is trying to be arrogant. The league wants a mature celebration after touchdowns. Some of the thinking is the NFL doesn't want to set bad examples for high school and youth players. The league is trying to guard against taunting celebrations that could lead to fights. I wish the league would loosen up a little. Some of the celebrations were great to watch.

Q: I have an idea for the franchise tag salary issue. Why don't they figure out the number based on the percentages of when a guy lines up? So if a tight end lines up wide 10 percent of the time, in the slot 30 percent of the time, and at tight end 60 percent of the time, then 10 percent of his salary is based on the average of the top 5 WRs, 30 percent slot receivers, 60 percent tight ends. You can also do this for linebackers who line up at pass rusher/DE. What do you think?

Chinh Le in San Francisco

A: That's not a bad way to handle it. The only issue with that is creating an accounting basis for slot receiver. And if that's the case, what happens when a running back lines up in the slot. Should that be counted? Like I've said, the solutions might end up making the system worse. Nevertheless, it can only help to keep trying to come up with new formulas and ideas. The franchise system is outdated. Finding a perfect system is probably impossible, but let's keep trying.

Q: The Colts have had some issues on the O-line in the past couple of seasons. They drafted Jack Mewhort, who is pretty good. They didn't sign anyone other than Joe Reitz and Phil Costa, who retired shortly after. Are they going to be able to protect Andrew Luck any better or worse than they have in the last two seasons? With some of the other more notable free-agent signings, what kind of production should other Colts fans and myself realistically expect from those players individually? And what do you see happening for the Colts in terms of wins/losses, division champs, playoff wins/losses?

Steve in Denver

A: You are hitting on the biggest question involving the Colts. Regardless, with Luck at quarterback, the Colts are the best team in the AFC South and should stay at the 11-win level. They are solid at tackle and probably good enough at guard. Center could be the big question mark. Money might not have solved the problem this year. It wasn't a great free-agent class of interior offensive linemen. Zane Beadles and Jon Asamoah were the top guards available. It was a weak free-agent class at center. Because of that, the Colts need to get more out of their running back to take some pressure off the line and Luck.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer

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