8 Most Balanced and Unbalanced Teams in the NFL
We all know that the single greatest goal in the NFL is to win. The tactics that teams employ to achieve that simple goal can be wildly different, though.
There’s no question that not all football teams are created equal. Each player in the NFL brings different strengths and weaknesses to the table, and it is the responsibility of the coaching staff to find a combination of players that will make his team the best it can be.
For some coaches, that means attempting to strike the perfect balance between offense, defense and special teams to form the most solidly-built football team possible.
For others, that means stacking one side of the ball and trusting that by overwhelming the opposition in that area, the weaker elements of the team will make do.
Is one strategy more effective than another? Over the next eight slides, we’ll take a look at some of the most balanced—and some of the most unbalanced—teams in the NFL to find out.
Unbalanced: Philadelphia Eagles
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On paper, the Philadelphia Eagles are one of the strongest, best put-together teams in the league. After taking a gluttonous trip through the buffet of free agency, the Eagles boast a star-studded roster that should be the envy of any head coach.
The problem is that despite the big names, the Eagles can’t seem to figure out how either their offense or their defense is supposed to work. Although the team went all-in this year on certain positions, they relied on rookies, unsigned free agents and lesser players to act as the glue that holds the stars together.
Sure, sometimes we’ll see flashes of greatness from one side of the ball or the other. And when both sides get their acts together at the same time, the Eagles are spectacular to watch.
Their 3-5 record speaks much louder about the balance problems on the team than any amount of theatrics on the field can, though.
Balanced: Arizona Cardinals
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If there is one thing that has remained consistent in Arizona between 2010 and 2011, it is the mediocrity that plagues the Cardinals.
The team has their fair share of talent (or potential talent) on the offensive side of the ball. Tight end Todd Heap has joined forces with Larry Fitzgerald to create a decent passing threat, and Beanie Wells has shown that he can be exceptional on the ground when he’s healthy.
That potential talent on the offensive side of the ball is offset by the disaster of a quarterback the Cardinals brought in during the offseason. Kevin Kolb’s inability to finish a game—and the offensive line’s inability to help him in any way—has made the offense one of the least effective on the field with just 20 points per game on average.
That offensive performance is in perfect harmony with a defense that ranks 28th in the league in yards allowed per game and 23rd in points allowed.
Unbalanced: Minnesota Vikings
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The Minnesota Vikings have had well-documented offensive struggles this year. Heck, they’ve switched starting quarterbacks halfway through the season, and it seems to be too much to ask for offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave to give running back Adrian Peterson a consistently decent number of carries.
Defensively, the Vikings are faring somewhat better. They’re giving up a ton of yards per game (an average of 368, which puts them at 20th in the league), but they’re near the top of the league in sacks (24) and giving up a somewhat respectable 21.5 points per game.
If we really want to talk about an unbalanced team, though, let’s take a look at the Vikings off the field. With the arrest of cornerback Chris Cook in October, Minnesota officially surpassed the Cincinnati Bengals as the team with the most player arrests since 2000.
You can’t get much more imbalanced than that.
Balanced: Houston Texans
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By the numbers, the Houston Texans have pretty much won the balance game. Their defense is one of the best overall in the league, surrendering the fewest yards per game (274) and the third-fewest points per game (17.4).
Their offense is also hitting on all cylinders so far. Between the high-octane duo of Arian Foster and Matt Schaub, the Texans are averaging 26.2 points and almost 400 yards from scrimmage per game.
The Texans are even fairly well balanced from a special teams perspective: Kicker Neil Rackers is one of the most dependable in the league, while kick returner Danieal Manning has the potential to go all the way when he is healthy.
If the Texans can find a way to move past some of the many injuries plaguing the team, they should be able to stay on top of the AFC South.
Unbalanced: New England Patriots
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When he is at the top of his game, Tom Brady is a nightmare on the field for most defenses. He’s got an all-star cast of wide receivers and tight ends to throw to this year.
To make the offense even more potent, the ground game has blossomed this season with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead.
Defensively speaking, though, the Patriots are nothing terribly special. They are ranked dead last in the league for yards allowed—416.2 per game—and they have struggled to make tackles and sacks consistently.
It is clear that, just as Peyton Manning used to do for the Indianapolis Colts, Tom Brady is masking a lot of his team’s poor play on the other side of the ball.
Balanced: Detroit Lions
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The Detroit Lions are getting it done on both sides of the ball with uncanny efficiency. On average, each game the Lions defense will allow just 18.4 points, while the offense will put up 29.9 points.
Offensively, Matthew Stafford has demonstrated that he can indeed be the franchise quarterback Detroit fans have been waiting for. With Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson and Brandon Pettigrew on the field, Stafford has a ton of talent to throw to.
Defensively, led by Ndamukong Suh and Justin Durant, the Lions have demonstrated plenty of talent at shutting down the opposition.
If the Lions could just get some of their key injured players back up to 100 percent, they would be even scarier than they already are.
Unbalanced: Green Bay Packers
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Like the New England Patriots, the Green Bay Packers are getting it done on the offensive side of the ball and crossing their fingers that the defense can put up a few stops.
So far, that formula has been working.
Eight games into the season, the Packers have been exposed time and again defensively as every quarterback they face—from green rookies to seasoned veterans—has a field day with the porous passing defense.
Fortunately, the defense has a knack of coming up with big turnovers at key times. If not for that, then the Packers could be facing a very different record heading into the second half of the season.
Balanced: Cincinnati Bengals
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Sometimes the best way to create harmony on a team is to eliminate as many of the big names (and big egos) from the roster as possible.
That seems to be the route that the Cincinnati Bengals tried this year and, miracle of miracles, it’s working wonders for them.
Aside from Cedric Benson, there isn’t really anyone of note on the roster. Offensively, they’re led by a second-round draft pick quarterback who is throwing to a cadre of very young wide receivers. The most experienced guy on their front line is in his fourth season.
Defensively, there’s a bit more veteran talent, mostly from players who have failed to make huge names for themselves nationally.
That balance of quiet efficiency has been great so far. The Bengals have quietly put together a 6-2 season, and are currently the top-seeded team in the AFC.