The ghost of Bud Carson

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Dec 17, 2005



What's overcome the New England defense?
 
How about the ghost of Bud Carson?
 
Carson, of course, was the defensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1972 to 1977 and is considered the architect of the Steel Curtain defense that won two Super Bowls while he was with the team and then two more in the years immediately after his departure.
 
Carson died Dec. 7 at age 75.
 
Since that day, the Patriots have had the toughest defense in the NFL and are in the midst of the greatest midseason defensive transformation since – yes – Carson's 1976 Steelers defense.
 
The Steel Curtain defense is arguably the best of all time. From Carson's arrival in 1972 to the end of Pittsburgh's Super Bowl run in 1979, the Steel Curtain ranked in the Top 10 in scoring defense all but one year. It ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in scoring defense five times in those eight seasons.
 
It also ranked in the Top 10 in total defense every single season, and No. 1, 2 or 3 six of those seasons.
 
In nearly a decade of dominance, the 1976 season marked the height of the Steel Curtain. The Steelers ranked No. 1 in the NFL in scoring (9.86 PPG) and in total defense (260.4 YPG) in 1976. It was also the stingiest of all those 1970s Pittsburgh teams and, in the entire Super Bowl Era, it was the fourth toughest defense to score against (we've been chronicling the modern NFL's stingiest defenses for much of the season as we've watched the 2005 Bears chase history).
 
More interestingly, the defense of the 1976 Steelers sucked the first five weeks of the season. That team began the year with a 1-4 record, thanks to a defense that gave up 22.0 PPG. Those first five games included a 31-28 loss to Oakland and a 30-27 loss to New England.
 
The team flipped a switch over the final nine weeks of the (then 14-game) season. The Steelers pitched five shutouts and allowed an amazing total of 28 points (3.1 PPG) in those final nine games. It was the greatest stretch of defensive dominance in the history of the NFL.
 
Fast forward to 2005: New England's defense is certainly not as dominant as that Steelers defense was in 1976, but, like that Pittsburgh defense, its turnaround has been nothing short of remarkable. New England has been particularly stout since Carson's death. In the two games since then, the Patriots are one late-game-missed-tackle-on-an-icy-field away from pitching back-to-back shutouts.
 
Here's how New England's defense stacked up in the first half of the season, the second half of the season and in the two games since the death of the Patron Saint of Defensive Turnabouts, Bud Carson:
 
 
Record
PPG
YPG
RushYPG
APC
PassYPG
FDPG
Takeaways
1st half
4-4
27.5
372.5
128.9
4.0
243.6
21.2
0.75
2nd half
5-1
11.5
294.5
60.2
2.8
234.3
16.8
1.5
ABC*
2-0
3.5
160.5
22.0
1.5
138.5
10.0
2.0
 
* After the death of Bud Carson. APC = opponents' average per carry; FDPG = opponents' first downs per game.
 
Besides the sudden defensive turnarounds, the 1976 Steelers and 2005 Patriots share something else in common: Both were two-time defending Super Bowl champions.
 
But Pittsburgh's late-season dominance went for naught. The Steelers lost their two top running backs, Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier, during their dominating 40-14 win over Baltimore in the divisional playoffs. Handicapped without a running game, they got spanked by Oakland, 24-7, in the AFC title game despite holding the Raiders to 220 yards of offense and a net of 63 passing yards. 

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