Has the Phrase "Defense Wins Championships" Become Obsolete in the NFL?
Throughout the history of the NFL, defense has always reigned supreme. When you look at the old days of football, all of the great squad nicknames have come from great defenses. The Monsters of the Midway, the Steel Curtain, the Purple People Eaters, etc.
The phrase "offense sells tickets but defense wins championships" has been not only a saying, but a way of life for teams like the Steelers, Bears, and Ravens, who have all relied on average quarterback play mixed in with above average rushing and far superior defenses to make and win Super Bowls.
Now, not only is defense not winning championships, it's becoming obsolete. Rule changes have made it so that even the best defenses need an offense that puts up at least 20 points every single game to be competitive.
This past season, the Baltimore Ravens ranked 3rd in defense and were able to go up against other Top 10 defenses in the first two rounds but were defeated by the 31st ranked Patriots.
The Patriots then lost to the Giants in the Super Bowl.
But they lost to the Giants because the Giants had a better defense right?
Well, yes, technically. While the Patriots were 31st in defense last season, the Giants were slightly better, ranking 27th.
Would the 2000 Ravens win a Super Bowl in today's NFL?
The worst ranked defense last season was the Green Bay Packers, they went 15-1 and had the best regular season record in the NFL.
In fact, six of the 12 worst defenses in the NFL made the playoffs (Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers). The Broncos (20th on defense) beat the Steelers (1st) in the first round of the playoffs. The Giants beat an Atlanta Falcons team that ranked 15 places higher than them on defense then beat the 49ers (4th) in the NFC Championship game.
And these aren't the only examples of the passing game making a difference. The Cincinnati Bengals were infused by youth on offense win Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, both rookies, came in and played spectacularly, giving the Bengals a legit passing game for the first time since Carson Palmer and Chad Johnson ran the team.
The Steelers had the best defense in the NFL last season, allowing roughly 14 fewer yards per game than any other team, but they lost in the first round when Tim Tebow lead the Broncos on yet another late game charge.
In fact, the Broncos were left for dead until Tim Tebow took over the team and gave them confidence in their quarterback, proving that you don't even need a great quarterback, but without confidence in his ability to win you the game then you won't win.
The Baltimore Ravens seem like the last of the old guard, a really good defense with a solid rushing game and merely an average passer at first glance, but then you get into the stats. The Ravens ranked 12th in scoring, Ray Rice had over 2,000 all-purpose yards, three different players had over 700 yards receiving and four had over 500.
But that is nothing compared to the NFC, where the quarterback reigns supreme and defense is merely a thing of the past.
The top five passing teams all came out of the NFC, and each of those five teams made the playoffs. The only team not in the top five were the San Francisco 49ers, who ranked 29th.
In the NFC, you can't get by with Joe Flacco or Ben Roethlisberger, you need a stud, and teams have begun to find more and more of those players. The Panthers made a huge turnaround thanks to Cam Newton, and the Redskins and Colts are hoping to see similar results from Andrew Luck and RGIII.
The Panthers even took a quarterback in the second round of the previous draft, but the times have changed and they needed production immediately.
The days when you can sit behind the starter and learn for a year or two are gone. Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco were merely exceptions to the rule years ago, but now the passing game has changed to the point where you need immediate production.
This season Dalton, Newton and T.J. Yates all came in as rookie quarterbacks and played above and beyond the level of what was expected just five years ago. Sam Bradford is already hearing people say bust despite having a better rookie season than Peyton Manning.
The quarterback position has changed the face of the game of football, but defense can still win you a championship, as long as you forget it exists.
I'm Joe W.
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