Defense STILL wins Championships

Wow, what a gem the Chiefs vs Rams was, over a hundred points and the first time in NFL history a team has scored 50 points and lost. Everyone is still talking about it, and quite rightly so, but I have a contrarian view to the crowd on this…

I enjoyed the spectacle just like everyone else, it was a great game to watch as a neutral, thrill a minute stuff but my one takeaway is that none of these teams are winning the Super Bowl.

I simply can’t imagine a defence that’s capable of shipping 50 points going all the way. One of these teams, may very well get to the Super Bowl (and if they end up meeting in a rematch then my prediction is toast) but history tells us big defensive plays are what makes the difference in the playoffs. Particularly so on the biggest stage – teams who have relied on their offence to outscore the opposition usually come up just a step or a play short in the big game.

Let’s look at last years Super Bowl, it will be remembered for the offensive fireworks and the records that were set – but the Eagles had the no 4 defence in the league and that was what mattered in the end. The Eagles scored touchdowns on most of their possessions, while the patriots amassed 613 yards but were held out of the end zone more often. The Eagles forced Gostkowski to kick field goals on their first 2 scoring drives, successfully defended a 4thdown conversion and then created a critical turnover when it looked like Tom Brady might drive them down the field again.

Some of the other memorable Super Bowls involving much vaunted offences vs great defences were:

Denver Broncos over Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl in Super Bowl 51

Denver’s outstanding defence took over this game and stopped a Carolina offence that had powered through the NFC with ease, scoring 31.2 points per game. Denver’s league leading set the tone early when Von Miller stripped the ball from Newton allowing Malik Jackson to recover in the endzone for a touchdown. 3 more turnovers meant Carolina only scored 10 points after putting up 49 in the AFC championship game.

Seattle Seahawks over Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 49

2 seasons before Peyton Manning rode off into the sunset on the back of that victory, the Legion of Boom put on one of the finest displays I have ever seen and to this day it remains one of my favourite Super Bowls. A Safety and an INT returned for a touchdown lead to a 22-0 lead for Seattle at half time and Denver couldn’t find a way back.

New Orleans Saints over Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl 44

These were two teams with huge weapons on offence. The difference was the Saints blitz heavy defence that was a turnover machine during the season. We knew these teams could score on each other so the difference would be which defence made the most plays on the day. The Colts jumped out to a 10-0 lead but were then held to only 7 points for the rest of the game. A particularly iconic moment was Tracy Porter’s interception when the Colts were driving to try and tie the game. And of course, we can’t talk about this game without mentioning the onside kick that took everyone by surprise.

Pittsburgh Steelers over Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl 43

Arizona rode into the playoffs on the back of Kurt Warner’s epic 2008 season. He threw for4,583 yards and 30 touchdowns, with only 14 interceptions, while having three receivers over 1,000 yards and a running back who scored 10 touchdowns. This was a great offence to watch but the Steelers managed to slow them down, holding them to 7 points through 3 quarters aided by James Harrison’s 100-yard interception return.

 

What about Superbowl 49? I hear you ask…isn’t this the one where the Patriots offence took down the defensive juggernaut that was the Legion of Boom? Yes… but the Patriots were also top 10 in points allowed that year and there were many big defensive plays that helped salt away that win. Without Hightower stopping Lynch getting into the end zone, and Malcom Brown making his big interception that game ends differently. Our offence was held to 14 points through three quarters in that game, Seattle could easily have been out of sight if our Defence hadn’t played well and kept us in it. That for me is the key point, at some point in the playoffs a team will find a way to slow you down on offence and your defence needs to keep you alive.

If you look back over the last 10 Super Bowl winning teams, only the Eagles have won with a defence giving up more than 22 points per game during the regular season. The average is 18.8.

The Rams are at 25.6 and the Chiefs are at 26.7 after their epic battle. So, history suggests that the odds are stacked against them. One thing that does bode well for them however is the difference between PPG scored and PPG given up. Their differential is 9.8 and 10 points respectively, indicating they are still handily winning games. Both of those totals are better than the average of the last 10 Super Bowl winners which comes in at 7.89. Only the Saints are performing better in this metric, with a huge 13.9 differential.

I said in a previous article the Saints are my team to beat, and I still believe that. Other than the Rams and the Chiefs, the Saints are the only other team averaging over 30 points per game. The Saints are capable of hanging with either of these teams in a shootout, and their defence is going from strength to strength. The Rams are the only team to score more than 23 points on them since the week 3 shootout with the Falcons. I simply can’t see anyone who beats them at the moment.

Compare this to the Rams who have given up 51, 31, 45 and 27 in recent weeks and the Chiefs, who have also given up 54, 43, and 37 against teams with good offences.

Outside of these three teams, the one with the next best differential is the LA Chargers, due to their stingy defence giving up only 20.9 PPG. I think the Chargers are a team that could play spoiler in the AFC, although dropping the game against the Broncos last weekend hurts their chances of having a home playoff game. Over the next 4 weeks they have to go to both Pittsburgh and Kansas City, winning both those games will likely be needed to avoid road trips in January.

I am full of love for the Chiefs and the Rams offences, they’re a joy to watch week in and week out. But if previous seasons have taught us anything, it is that you need to be a balanced team to win a Lombardi trophy. Teams who rely too much on offence, or too much on defence rarely manage to go the distance.