Pro football offense exciting, but defense gets job done

Oct 30, 2012 3:00 AM

So what do you prefer: offense or defense? Most casual bettors examining NFL picks like offense, which is why Monday night football games often take more action on the OVER.

There have been some terrific offensive football teams the last few years, such as Oregon and USC, along with pro passing attacks like the Colts, the no-huddle Patriots and the Greatest Show on Turf Rams. However, name the last few Super Bowl winners? The Giants (twice), Packers, Saints, Steelers (twice), Colts, Pats (thrice) and Bucs.

Last season everyone was impressed with the no-huddle Patriots, but the defense was second worst in yards allowed, and in the end the better defensive team shut them down in the Super Bowl.

Two years ago everyone was impressed with the high flying Green Bay offense, but the fact is their defense was very talented. Under Dom Capers in 2010, the Packers ranked fifth both in total defense and against the pass. The team they beat in the Super Bowl, Pittsburgh, was second in total defense and No. 1 against the run. The team they beat in the AFC Championship game, the Jets, built around its defense.

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Super Bowl winner rushing/passing rankings
1996 Packers
No. 1 (4 rush, 1 pass)
1997 Broncos
No. 5 (16 rush, 5 pass)
1998 Broncos
No. 11 (3 rush, 25 pass)
1999 Rams
No. 6 (1 rush, 23 pass)
2000 Ravens
No. 2 (1 rush, 9 pass)
2001 Patriots
No. 24 (18 rush, 24 pass)
2002 Bucs
No. 1 (6 rush, 1 pass)
2003 Patriots
No. 7 (3 rush, 18 pass)
2004 Patriots
No. 9 (6 rush, 17 pass) 
2005 Steelers
No. 4 (3 rush, 16 pass)
2006 Colts
No. 15 (32 rush, 3 pass)
2007 Giants
No. 15 (32 rush, 3 pass)
2008 Steelers
No. 1 (2 rush, 1 pass)
2009 Saints
No. 25 (21 rush, 26 pass) 
2010 Packers
No. 5 (18 rush, 5 pass)
2011 Giants
No. 5 (19 rush, 29 pass)

Three years ago was a bit of an aberration with the high flying Saints and Colts meeting in the Super Bowl, but more often than not the superior defensive team stands out.

In 2008 the Arizona Cardinals had the flashy offense and were the big surprise, but the top defensive team in the league, Pittsburgh, topped them in the big game.

In 2007 defense shut down offense as the Giants topped the record-setting Patriots’ offense.

In 2006 Indy was unusual, in that their run defense was poor during the regular season, then caught fire in the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Bears were No. 1 in total defense.

Back in 2005, the Steelers and Seahawks met in the Super Bowl. They were two of the top run defenses in the league and Pittsburgh was No. 4 in total defense.

The Patriots won three Super Bowls with a better defense than offense. Their 2002 team didn’t make the playoffs and the reason was obvious, the second worst run defense. It was a flaw they fixed and the result was back-to-back Super Bowl titles. 

That 2002 season the Super Bowl was a fascinating matchup that pitted the No. 1 offense, Oakland, against the No. 1 defense, Tampa Bay. The Raiders averaged 28.1 points per game, while the Bucs ranked 18th in scoring with 21.6 ppg. This is partly why the Raiders were a four point favorite on Super Sunday, but the outcome was Tampa Bay 48, Oakland 21.

Defense still rules and is an important factor when assessing NFL picks. Defense, in all sports, doesn’t get the publicity a flashy, exciting offense does, but there is so much truth in that age-old adage, “Defense wins championships.”

Pittsburgh won four Super Bowl titles in six years from 1975-80 with Hall of Famers Terry Bradshaw, Lynn Swann and Franco Harris on offense. But the cornerstone of that run was a defense for the ages led by L.C. Greenwood, Joe Greene, Mel Blount and Jack Ham.

Note that five of the last 11 Super Bowl champions had major deficiencies on offense, yet won with strong all-around defenses. Last season the Giants were dead last in rushing the football. The 2005 Steelers were 23rd in passing.

Many laughed at the Baltimore Ravens in 2000 when they went five straight games without an offensive touchdown, but the Ravens laughed all the way to the Super Bowl, going 14-5-1 ATS dominating with a ferocious defense.

All the champs were statistically very strong defensively, with the exception of the 2001, the 2006 Colts, the 2008 Saints and the 2011 Giants. In 2001, New England struggled early with injuries and new personnel, but in the second half the ‘D’ held their final nine opponents to 17 points or less.

Contrast those numbers with the offensive rankings of the last 10 Super Bowl champs: The Ravens were 16th offensively, the Patriots 19th, Tampa Bay was 22nd, the 03’ Pats were 17th, the ‘04 Pats 7th, the Steelers 15th, the 2006 Colts third the Giants 16th, the 2008 Steelers 22nd, the 2009 Saints No. 1.

Last year the Giants had injuries and some clunker defensive games in the first half of the season, but were beasts down the stretch. The Pats ended 2007 on a 1-8 ATS run, getting all that publicity on offense, while the Giants were 8-1 ATS.

Offense may get all the TV highlights, but defense is still the more likely key to football success.

Jim Feist, author and leader in sports information for over 40 years, hosts TV’s Proline as well as running National Sports Services since 1975. Reach him at [email protected]

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