By Norm Elrod
With all of the high scores flashing across NFL scoreboards, offenses seem to be reasserting themselves this season. The Kansas City Chiefs, behind second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes, are averaging over 36 points per game. Drew Brees’s New Orleans Saints, at almost 35, aren’t far behind. Through the first nine weeks of the season, four teams are putting at least 30 points per game, and 12 are good for at least 25. No team averaged more than 30 points per game last season.
A few reasons might explain why this is happening, at least in part. For one, more and more teams look to orient their offenses around the pass, leading to larger gains and more scoring. The pass-first approach can also result in more penalties, which keep drives alive. And then there’s the matter of how officials interpret rules and call games. Recent rule changes certainly seem to favor offenses.
Inside the NFL analyst and Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis shared with us his thoughts on the matter. You can catch Ray alongside fellow analysts Phil Simms and Boomer Esiason and host James Brown every Tuesday night at 9 p.m. Eastern Time on Showtime.
(Editors note: This conversation has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.)
CBS Local Sports: As a defensive player, what do you think of the rules that have seemingly made it easier for offenses to put up the numbers that we’ve seen this season?
Ray Lewis: I just think it’s really hard. I would not want to play football in today’s times, because [of] the integrity of the game. We had defensive players, but it seems like there is no such thing as defensive players once you cross those lines. Tuck rule, can’t hit the quarterback low, can’t go high. Your head can’t engage with another guy’s head.
You’re asking a defensive player to get hurt, first and foremost. Quarterbacks now have the liberty to run, to fake slide, to keep going, to fake like they’re going out of bounds. We’ve always been reactive to the offensive side of the ball. Now we have to deal with fines, getting kicked out. Now the game is diluted. This is fantasy football. That’s all it is. That’s what this game is about now, fantasy football.
In real football, you have to earn every damn yard. That’s the way this culture was created, and that’s the way it’s always going to be. You have to earn it. Nothing in life is given for free. These rules give to the offenses. Hey, go score 60 points. Hey, don’t touch my quarterback below his knees.
CBS Local Sports: Despite the explosion of offense, football tends to be a cyclical game with innovations on each side of the ball to counter what the other side is doing. What do you think is the next thing defenses will try to do in order to slow down and stop these offenses?
Ray Lewis: There’s nothing to do from that standpoint. I saw a player make a play on a guy — pure shoulder tackle, never touched him in the head. They called a penalty on that. For all of these things that we want to address, let’s make sure that everything is right.
I said this years ago, when we were playing Tom Brady, and Tom Brady cried for a penalty that was not a penalty. I said, ‘we’re in trouble, if the game is going in this direction.’ So guess where we are now. We’re here.
CBS Local Sports: In the NFC, outside of the Rams, who are some teams that have a chance of coming out of that conference?
Ray Lewis: Minnesota is tough. Minnesota is going to be tough to beat. Good defense. And when they get healthy, they have a lot of people. You’re going to have to deal with them. Kirk Cousins going to Minnesota was a big deal. They have a lot of weapons… [Adam] Thielen, [Dalvin] Cook, now that he’s back. They have a complete team.
CBS Local Sports: What about in the AFC, outside of the Patriots and the Chiefs?
Ray Lewis: The Chargers. Philip Rivers has what John Elway needed to win a Super Bowl, what every great quarterback needs, the run game. And right now, Melvin Gordon is his safety net. So I would put the Chargers up there. And they’re playing good defense.