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Point, counterpoint: Rush or cover?


! Staff Writer Mike Spofford says rush.

If I have to pick just one, give me the pass-rush.

Sure, guys like Darrelle Revis and Deion Sanders can take a top weapon out of a game, even cut the field in half, but an offense can avoid an elite cover corner if it wants. No offense can stay away from a great pass-rusher. It has to deal with him on every single play.

Maybe the most dominant defense of all-time was owned by the 1985 Chicago Bears. Defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan's philosophy was that the opposing quarterback can't beat you if he's lying on his back.

That '85 Bears defense has two players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and neither was in the secondary. Richard Dent and Mike Singletary intimidated quarterbacks in that front seven, and six of those front seven tallied five or more sacks that season, led by Dent with 17.

Starting cornerbacks Mike Richardson and Leslie Frazier, the current Minnesota Vikings coach, were solid cover guys, but they weren't elite players. They didn't need to be. They had a relentless pass-rush that limited the amount of time they had to stick with receivers, and that defense allowed only 12.4 points per game and posted two playoff shutouts.

Offenses are better equipped to deal with rush-heavy, blitz-crazy defenses now than a quarter-century ago. They've adjusted to more spread formations, quick slant throws and the like.

But I'll still take dominant pass-rushers over shutdown corners because if the front four can get pressure on their own, the defense is in better shape. Even the best cover corners can't stick with top-flight receivers for six or seven seconds every play, and relying on a blitz to get pressure will only work for so long. It leads to getting gashed for the big play if the offense makes the right call at the right time, no matter how strong a secondary is.

There are a lot more rules protecting quarterbacks these days, and pass-rushers have to be leery of the hits they deliver. But it's starting to get that way in the secondary, too, and here's another thing: a receiver getting bumped, handcuffed and harassed to the point of being ineffective doesn't hurt an offense as much as a quarterback taking a beating, getting hit time and again, getting nervous in the pocket and losing his will to stand and deliver.

Taking a receiver out of the game is nice work. Taking the quarterback out is game-changing.

! Editor Vic Ketchman says cover.

Let's start with this: The rush and the pass-coverage go hand in hand. You won't get many sacks if the coverage doesn't last long enough for the rush to get to the quarterback, and no defense can hold its coverage forever.

Having said all of that, allow me, please, to say this: The No. 1 defense in the league in sacks per pass play, Philadelphia, has sacked the quarterback on 10 percent of the pass plays the Eagles have faced, which means the Eagles' pass-defense has been responsible for the other 90 percent of the pass plays.

Say hello to the most overrated play in football, the sack. It's so overrated that it wasn't until 1982 that the NFL even made it an official statistic. That's when the "sack god" was born. All of a sudden, we became sack crazy.

Hey, it's the best thing that ever happened to Lawrence Taylor. What would L.T.'s fame be without sack mania? Imagine Taylor's bio without a sacks stat. Is it just a coincidence that sacks became an official stat the year after L.T. entered the league? I don't think so.

The sack is not only a stat, it's a fashion statement. Mark Gastineau gave us a sack dance that can only be described as "going nuts." Let's not leave Clay Matthews out of the discussion, either. The flowing hair, the gyrations; the almighty sack quickly turned Matthews into a star.

Oh, how we love the sack.

Meanwhile, the poor guys in the back are the ones making it all happen. Wadda the sack boys got without Charles Woodson and Darrelle Revis and the like in the back? They got nothing. Put a lot of lead-footed defensive backs back there and watch those sack totals drop.

It's about the coverage, folks. Dom Capers will get you a rush with his imagination, a pencil and a couple of tweeners, but you can't scheme simple and basic pass-coverage skills, and if you don't have guys that can play them, all the zone coverages in the world won't help you. Today's quarterbacks will find the open man.

"Get the ball out of his hand." How many times have you heard coaches explain the importance of the quarterback getting the ball out of his hand? It's all about avoiding the sack and offensive innovation has been very good at decreasing the time the rush has to get home.

Bill Walsh gave us the "West Coast Offense," the foundation of which is built on a three-step drop and getting the ball out of the quarterback's hand before the rush arrives. The "West Coast Offense" not only made Joe Montana and Jerry Rice famous, it made a lot of rather ordinary offensive linemen long-term fixtures at their positions.

Here's a stat for you. The No. 1 team in the league in pass-defense, the Steelers, are 20th in the league in sacks per pass play. Explain that to me, Mike. If the rush is so important, how does a team that doesn't have one rank No. 1 against the pass? I'll explain it to you: They're covering receivers tightly.

The Giants lead the league with 18 sacks, but they're 18th in the league in pass-defense. Clearly, their pass-rush hasn't translated into success in defending against the pass. The Chargers, however, are No. 2 against the pass and they only have eight sacks.

Overrated. If you've got Woodson and Revis at cornerback, you can win with Spofford rushing the quarterback.

What do you think?

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