For all the talk of the league belonging to the quarterback, for the notion that offense produces success, for the modern perception that three yards and a cloud of dust is an archaic adage, let’s look at the tale of the tape, and add up the numbers.
That passing yardage has risen exponentially in the last few years is evident; to find evidence of this, one has to look no further than the 2011 season, when four of the top six seasons for quarterback passing yardage was recorded.
Until the last few years, the common school of thought has been that ‘offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships’. For those who’ve never subscribed to this axiom, I would suggest that you look at Dan Fouts led teams of Air-Coryell, or the Dolphins of Dan Marino’s day, or Warren Moon’s run-and-shoot teams of the Houston Oilers. If that’s not enough, then please reference the Lions of the early ‘90’s, with three one thousand yard receivers and Barry Sanders, great offenses all, but no Lombardi Trophies to speak of between them. None of these teams had the defense to carry them through the grind of the playoffs, and onto the biggest stage of them all.
But Steve, what about the 1980’s 49ers? What about the Cowboys of the 1990’s? You forgot about them.
No I didn’t. What separated the Niners and the Cowboys was balance; both teams had great offenses, but they also had great D’s as well. The names are too numerous to list, but if you do a little research you find many defensive players from both teams are now members of the Hall of Fame.
But Steve, that point is now moot because this isn’t your father’s NFL, things have changed, just look at the numbers.
Okay, let’s look at the numbers.
We’ll begin on offense, and we’ll look at the top six teams in the league in each category. We’ll leave scoring out of the equation for obvious reason, but for those of you with inquiring minds, the top six teams in scoring on both sides of the ball have combined records of 24-6. I told you; obvious.
On offense, the top six in passing yardage have a combined won/lost record of 11-16. The top two, New Orleans and Detroit are a combined 2-7. Perhaps running the ball gives us a truer reflection; the top six rushing teams have a winning record at 17-13. Or maybe balance is the best barometer of what’s really going on. The top six in total yards have a net record of 13-16.
That can’t be right, can it? If it is, surely it’s an anomaly. We can learn the answer to that by examining the defenses with the same criteria. The top six defenses against the pass are 18-10, the top units against the run are 17-12, and the top overall defenses are a combined 20-6.
Let’s go one step further and do the math in all categories. On offense, leaders are 41-45 for a .427 winning percentage, while the defensive leaders are 55-28 for a winning percentage of .663.
While I’m not a mathematical wizard, and I’ll probably never share anything in common with Albert Einstein other than the occasional improperly buttoned shirt; that seems a no-brainer to me. Give me a great defense over a prolific offense every day of the week; this is a proven way to win.
So while we all know that Eli and the Giants offense got hot in the home stretch last year, it was their defenses’ ability to apply pressure to the quarterback that ultimately won them the Super Bowl.
There will always be exceptions to every rule, and clutch performances and intangibles can change a golden rule to a soft lead, lending hope to alchemists everywhere, but tried and true is always a good policy. Look for a great defense to surprise some experts at some point this year, by taking down an offensive juggernaut when no one gives them a chance.
I welcome your retort, but as for my case, the defense rests.
About the Author
Written by Steve Massey
Steve Massey is the author of Grid Iron Audible at @prosportsblogging.com, a weekly column covering all things NFL related. He is originally from California, but now resides in Northern Arkansas with his beautiful wife and best friend, Debbie. Follow Steve on Twitter @SteveMassey9