Big Tease: 2012 New England Patriots And NFL's History Of Offensive Failures
So what’s the deal?
The old cliché says that “defense wins championships.” There’s certainly some truth to the saying. NFL champions are generally a bit bettter defensively than they are offensively. And great defenses are less likely to fall apart than great offenses.
But it’s actually simplistic to say that "defense wins championships." A more accurate saying is that “balance wins championships.”
Teams that are competitive in all areas, even if they’re not dominant in any, tend to perform better in the postseason than teams that are dominant in one area but have weaknesses in others.
The 2011 Giants were a perfect example. The Super Bowl champs did not dominate in any one area. Their offense was downright impotent compared to the three juggeranuts from Green Bay, New England and New Orleans. But the Giants were one of three NFL teams that ranked in the top 21 in every single one of our Quality Stats. the Packers, Patriots and Saints each had critical weaknesses that we had discussed all year. Those weaknesses for each one-sided offensive-led contender snapped like a jealous boyfriend in the biggest games of the year.
History here once against supports the notion that high-powered offenses can't do it alone. As noted above, just 14 members of the Big 53 won a league championship, whether in the AAFC, AFL or NFL. You'll find two clusters of them, too: back in the 1940s and early 1950s, and again in the 1990s.
Almost all 14 Big 53 champions shared something in common: they paired a historically prolific offenses with a solid and sometimes great defenses. Here's a look at how those 14 Big 53 champions stacked up defensively (scoring defense, total defense and Defensive Passer Rating, a historically critical measure of team success).
|Team||Season||Record||PPG||Outcome||Scoring D||Total D||DPR|
|Chicago Bears||1941||10-1||36.0||Won NFL title, 37-9||4||4||1|
|Chicago Bears||1943||8-11||30.3||Won NFL title, 41-21||2||2||1|
|Cleveland Browns||1946||12-2||30.21||Won AAFC title 14-9||1||2||1|
|Philadelphia Eagles||1948||9-2-1||31.33||Won NFL title, 7-0||2||2||2|
|Philadelphia Eagles||1949||11-1||30.33||Won NFL title, 14-0||1||1||1|
|Los Angeles Rams||1951||8-4||32.7||Won NFL title, 24-17||6||8||5|
|Baltimore Colts||1958||9-3||31.75||Won NFL title, 23-17||2||2||1|
|Baltimore Colts||1959||9-3||31.2||Won NFL title, 31-16||7||8||1|
|Houston Oilers||1961||10-3-1||36.6||Won AFL title, 10-3||2||2||2|
|Washington Redskins||1991||14-2||30.31||Won SB XXVI, 37-24||2||3||3|
|San Francisco 49ers||1994||13-3||31.6||Won SB XXIX, 49-26||6||8||5|
|Denver Broncos||1998||14-2||31.31||Won SB XXXIII, 34-19||8||11||21|
|St. Louis Rams||1999||13-3||32.88||Won SB XXXIV, 23-16||4||6||2|
|New Orleans Saints||2009||13-3||31.9||Won SB XLIV, 31-17||20||25||3|
Pretty telling numbers. The early and dominant Bears, Browns and Eagles won because they paired prolific offenses with the best defenses in football.
The 1959 and 1959 Colts are remembered for the revolutionary passing performances of Hall of Fame QB Johnny Unitas. But his defenses twice topped the NFL in Defensive Passer Rating, picking off an incredible 75 passes in just 24 games in those two seasons, leading the league each year in INT (40 and 35). Unitas and Raymond Berry helped change offensive football. But they wouldn't have been champs without defenses that repeatedly handed them the ball in good situations.
The Bill Walsh-bred San Francisco 49ers are remembered for their revolutionary West Coast offense. But as disciples of the Cold, Hard Football Facts know, Walsh's genius was not the West Coast offense. His genius was pairing the West Coast offense with the longest-lasting defensive dynasty in the history of football. The 49ers went 17 straight seasons (1981-1997), under three different head coaches, without surrendering 300 points in a season.
The St. Louis Rams fielded the "Greatest Show on Turf" in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the first team to top 500 points threee straight years. But only one of those teams are called champs. Those 1999 Rams ranked No. 4 in scoring D, No. 6 in total D and No. 2 in Defensive Passer Rating.
You can argue that only two elite offenses, and maybe three, got it done on the strength of that offense alone.
The 1951 Rams finished in the middle of the pack in all three defensive indicators in a 12-team league. It took all their offensive firepower to finally win it all, too: the game-winning points came on a 73-yard TD pass from Hall of Fame QB Van Brocklin to Hall of Fame receiver Tom Fears. Oh, Hall of Fame QB Waterfield booted the XP. That's a whole lot of Hall of Fame firepower, folks, just to eke out a single championship.
But even then, the Rams' suspect defense came up huge in the title game, holding Otto Graham and the Cleveland Browns to just 17 points, more than 10 points below Cleveland's average, and denying Paul Brown's team its sixth straight pro football championship.
The 2009 Saints, another offense blessed with a future Hall of Fame QB, ranked just 20th in scoring D and 25th in total D. But that unit got a huge boost from a pass defense that was among the best in football (No. 3 in DPR) and among the best at creating INTs. In fact, the game-sealing points in their Super Bowl win over the Colts came courtesy of a pick-six.
The 1998 Broncos are an interesting and perhaps unique case: they produced a Big 53 offense behind Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway (31.3 PPG) and paired it with a good, but hardly great defense (No. 8 in scoring, No. 21 in DPR). However, both units came through in a big way in Super Bowl XXXIII: the offense exceeded its regular-season average by scoring 34 points and the defense, which surrendered an average fo 19.3 PPG, held the prolific Atlanta offense to 19 points.
Cleary, it's better to have a great offense than to have a bad offense. Scoring a lot of points is never a bad thing in and of itself. But the history of the league is pretty clear: building a prolific offense at the expense of your defene, and still hoping to score a ring, is much like your chances of scoring big after the prom. It's a delusional fantasy, men. Those offenses are just a Big Tease.
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