NFL - the defense is gassed. Why isn't the offense?

In watching the Ravens/Broncos game, the announcer (Dierdorf?) repeatedly emphasized the ball control of the Broncs and how gassed the Ravens’ D was getting for being on the field for so long. It got to the point where I wanted to shut the sound off.

Anyway, this brought to mind a question I have pondered intermittently over the years: Aren’t the Bronco offensive players getting just as….er….gassed? I mean, they’re on the field just as long, but nobody talks about “we have to give the offense off the field and give them a breather”. Does it not even out?

Is playing defense more exhausting than playing offense? Are there more substitution opportunities on offense than on defense? I think both answers are no. What am I missing?


In that particular game, a few things were in play:

  1. The Ravens were not used to the altitude.

  2. It’s more tiring in general for the defensive linemen, who have to all push forward every play and chase the QB and others in the backfield. You can analogize it to the relevant ice difficulties of holding a door closed vs. trying to push it open.

  3. The offense controls the playcalling, and can this mitigate their exhaustion by consciously avoiding tired players. The defense doesn’t know what is coming, so they always have to be alert.

  1. I get that, but I hear this statement regularly. In fact, I logged on to report that, as I watched the Seattle/Atlanta game, they just now remarked how worn out the Seahawks D is for being on the field for so long against the Falcons.

  2. I don’t buy this. I don’t think the defensive line exerts itself appreciably more than the offensive line.

  3. Perhaps, to a point. But if the offense avoids using the more tired players, then they are avoiding involving the players on the other side who are similarly tired. And the receivers and backs still have to run their routes.

I remain mystified.

There are more offensive linemen than defensive linemen. On passing plays, the D-linemen are doing a lot of running and pushing, while the O-linemen are doing more deflecting than anything else.
The linebackers are usually doing a lot of running on both running and passing plays. The downside of being able to play sideline to sideline is that you have to run sideline to sideline.
The receivers and DBs aren’t too much off from each other, but the corners are often running catch-up after a cut, while the wideouts know where they’re going, although that’s tempered by cushions given by the corners.

Which I why I specified I was referencing the game in question.

They do, and it makes perfect sense. No need to take my word for it. First, the O line knows the play, and can temper the efforts accordingly. A run to the right mean the guys on the left side can relax somewhat. Yet, the defense does not know that, so they are still going 100%. Acting is always easier than reacting.

There is also the issue that the defensive players generally weigh less than the O line. For example, Ray Lewis and Terell Suggs are 240lbs and 260lbs respectively. The guards and tackles for the Ravens are much heavier (Marshal Yanda- 315lbs., Michael Oher - 315lbs., Kelechi Osemele - 335lbs., Bryant McKinnie- 354lbs.). Obviously, the weight deferential can make one’s job harder. There is also the point that aside from rushing plays, offensive linemen are ceding ground. They don’t need to advance past the line of scrimmage; they just need to slow the advance of the defense. That makes the job much easier, and less tiring. Consider that a guy like Ray Lewis is hitting a some 320lbs guard in an attempt to sack a QB, then then might have to immediately adjust to chase down a RB out of the back field, or chasing down a receiver on a short pass.

Wrong. First, that would only be (somewhat) true if they are playing man to man. Second, since the offense is calling the plays and setting the pace, they can sub when they need to, in addition to pacing themselves as needed. Most teams have fewer defensive players on the roster, so it’s not always as easy to sub, especially if you don’t know when you will have the time. But the larger point is that being chased is much easier and less tiring than chasing. Which is why defensive is usually more tiring regardless of the sport. The same is true in basketball

Then you aren’t listening. Just to put your mind as ease, here are a couple of posts from the above links you might find illuminating:

Hope that answers your question.

I’ve never considered the effect of the no-huddle/quick snap offense on the defense’s energy level; that’s interesting. I can imagine a D-lineman, gasping for breath, muttering “Oh come on, man!” as the offense lines up for yet another quick snap.

Alright, I’m convinced. I appreciate all the info.

It’s (generally) true in other sports as well. Soccer, in particular, is known for ball-possession attacks wearing down opposing defenses. The offensive players can run, fake run, pass the ball around while the defense is constantly chasing. It comes down to the same principle - it’s less physically taxing to initiate attacks than it is to defend against them.

Although I guess there is one pretty obvious counter-example: boxing. It’s a viable strategy to defend and wait for the attacker to “punch themselves out” before going on attack yourself.

It’s really simple, and it’s not any different at a pro/college/high school level.

Offensive players are supposed to do their job, then follow downfield if the play breaks.

Defensive players are supposed to try and make a tackle downfield regardless of where they play.

So for example, if the offense throws a pass to the right side flat, the left side tackle is supposed to do his pass blocking, but generally speaking, isn’t expected to tear ass up field to make blocks.

The left side DT or DE however, is supposed to tear ass over and take the correct pursuit angle to tackle the guy downfield if he gets past the DT, DE and LBs on the right side.

Without the downfield pursuit, there’s not much difference really between offensive and defensive play.

If it helps, consider that the defensive line is really attacking (the QB/RB), and the offensive line is defending them. Counterintuitive, but it’s true.

You are partially right but it is a bit more complicated.

  1. WR vs CB/S - Yes both players will get equally tired

  2. OL vs DL/LB - This is where the defense exerts much more energy, covers more ground and generally will worn out first. Not only will they alternatively chase the RB and QB but they also must drop into coverage, chasing TEs and short routes like slants and screens.

  3. The traditional stand and deliver QBs like Flacco and Brady can really start to pick apart a tired back 7 the longer the D is on the field and even running QBs have the option to stay in the pocket.

  4. RBs do not generally carry 10-15 times IN A ROW. They carry a few, hit the flats and then stay in and block or are subbed out while the defense is still on the field and covering a lot of ground.

  5. Finally and maybe most importantly… if a RB or WR is gassed they drop a pass or get stuffed at the line. While fumbles and interceptions CAN happen, generally this more much more rare. However it only takes one person to be gassed on Defense and break down to yield a big play or TD from anywhere on the field.