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Championship Weekend Again Highlights Need for Great 'D'

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Championship Weekend Again Highlights Need for Great 'D'

As the dust finally settles from championship Sunday, fans will take note of the well-publicized similarities between the non-Brady/Belichick teams that competed. 
 
Great defenses. 
 
Indeed, Blake Bortles, Case Keenum, and Nick Foles entered the weekend with a chance to start in the Super Bowl, while the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Russel Wilson, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger—the list goes on—all watched from home. 
 
A fourth-quarter comeback notwithstanding, Bortles, who by any standard (and certainly his own) played very well, nearly outdueled Brady, a six-time Super Bowl champion. Had Keenum and the Vikings not turned in their collective worst performance of the season, they’d be playing “host” to the Patriots two weeks from now in Minneapolis. Foles, who is known better for his likeness to Jon Heder’s Napoleon Dynamite, turned in the most shocking performance of the weekend—carving the top-ranked Vikings’ defense to the tune of  350-plus yards and 3 touchdowns. 
 
But even as Bortles, and especially Foles, deserve credit for playing above and beyond expectations, what they mostly share is having great defenses back them up. Bortles’ yeoman-like effort against the Patriots would never have been without carrying a 20-10 lead into the fourth quarter. Foles was fantastic against the Vikings, but the Eagles defense turned in a pick-six and kept pouring on the third-down stops and turnovers. 
 
From close up or from 10,000 feet, a great defense is the sustaining quality of Super Bowl contenders—and almost without exception in recent years. 
This year’s Patriots may have been a paltry 29th in total yards, but they made up for it by finishing fifth in points allowed. Philadelphia is ranked fourth in both yards and points. Last year’s Patriots? Thirteenth in yards; first in points allowed. It’s a trend that follows strictly going back the past decade. The 2016 Broncos were first in yards and fourth in points; the ’14 Patriots were around 10th in both categories, and the ’13 Seahawks dominated both categories. 
 
Two recent caveats? The 2012 Ravens (17th in yards, T12th in points) benefitted greatly from a superman-like postseason stretch from Joe Flacco. The ’11 Giants were 27th in yards and 25th in points but survived because of their prowess attacking quarterbacks. Those Giants finished T3rd in sacks (48) and T6th in interceptions (20). 
 
Indeed, the Packers’ championship in 2010—which still featured a high-flying, Aaron Rodgers-led offense—had the benefit of a defense that finished fifth in total yards and second in points allowed (to go with 47 sacks and 25 interceptions, both second-best in the league). 
 
Duh, right? “Defenses win championships,” is as cliched a phrase as talking about quarterback intangibles. But the numbers back it up. 
 
And so even as the Packers have legitimate question marks on offense—at tight end, wide receiver, backup quarterback and along the offensive line—history tells us that erecting a championship defense is most important. The Eagles are a great example of a team that used reasonably-priced veteran free agents to bolster an already impressive roster.  Green Bay may need to do the same to give new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine the pieces he needs to begin and complete an emphatic turnaround.
 
The advantage Green Bay has always purported to have—that with Rodgers, an average defense is all that’s needed—hasn’t shown to be true. When it counts, a great defense can make up for huge questions at quarterback—and if you need to look any further, take a look at Nick Foles. 
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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (31) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Horse's picture

Hmm. Great D is great, no doubt.

But I noticed something yesterday. It's almost as if it wasn't enough.

Vikings #1 D kicked some ass, but nah. Jags great D, uh.

So, a radical idea here, I know, but maybe there's something else that makes the Magic Formula a little more complex than that.

Ds300916's picture

Totally agree!

John Kirk's picture

Defense does NOT win Championships. Tom Brady has more SB rings than any current QB. He is the greatest QB of all time. New England wins their rings because of him and Bill Belichick.

Right coaching is as or more important in winning than defense.

Go look up Allen Barra and his... 10 Myths of Pro Football...or go google the Freakonomics piece on if defense really wins championships.

Yes, the Packers need a BETTER defense for sure. We have the QB. New England doesn't have anywhere near an elite D, this year, or last, and they're playing for back to back.

It's about total strength of your team. If your O rates a 9 out of 10 and your D rates a 3 you get 12 points. If you face a team with a D that's a 9 and an O that's a 5 you're not as good. Of course, ST's factor as well, and coaching. This odd need to pin it on defense being the singular thing that makes a team win SB's is a curious origin.

Quarterback is in a category all by himself. He can elevate or tank your franchise all by himself almost. So, there is a huge effect on your overall strength based on one position. That's why it's been so hard watching us fall short year after year. We have the one variable that affects things more than any other and we can't get back to the SB? It's a ton on the D, but coaching hasn't done us any favors either nor has ST's over the years.

We need better coaching. We still have MM. We now have Pettine and not Dom. So, we should be a little better in the overall coaching aspect raising us up.

Bearmeat's Phantom Downvoter's picture

Agreed. We need a defense that is top 10 in points against and top 10 in turnovers. That is achievable in one offseason.

nigrivasilayesrej's picture

Brady has never won a SB without a top 12 scoring DEF. Do your homework.

John Kirk's picture

Do my homework? I'm a YARDS guy truther for rankings. This year the Patriots rank 29th in yards. They're almost dead last yet they're in the SB. Why? How could they beat the #2 defense in the NFL when they're 29th and without Gronk for the 2nd half. Coaching and QB. Brady swings the 29th D vs. the 2nd into a win with the coaching of Belichick. OH, and just so you know, I understand that you cherry picked stats. You were careful to point out SCORING defense. The NFL has used YARDS as a more accurate measure for YEARS. Last year, the SB winning Pats had the TWENTY FIFTH RANKED DEFENSE and won the SB. This year it's TWENTY NINTH. These are yards stats or "Total defense" as the NFL calls it. Your manipulation is sad just to try proving a point. I've done my homework. That is why I laugh at the wrong phrase DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS. No, it does not.

The #1 defense has been in the SB 11 times. So, around 20% of the time. They're 8-3 in those games. Study the split between O and D. You might be surprised what you'll find. I'll do the homework for you...the Top Ranked O has been there 14 times and is 8-6. So, 8 times the Top O has won the SB, 8 times the Top D has won. It's NONSENSE to go on and on about how D wins championships. It doesn't. Never has. Never will. Teams scoring the most points have reached the SB a whopping 21 times. Those teams are 10-11 in those games. Offense is just as important as D. The Packers ratio has been too far out of whack. Again, we don't need to be the Vikings on D. We need to be better, as 12 is such a gift he almost gets us there. A new better HC would also help the ratio, too.

The average defensive ranking for a SB winner is 6.8 or 7th overall. It's not 1st overall. The Packers don't need the Vikings D...what they need is a better balance between their HOF QB, their poor D, and middling HC. All of those things factor. D is not more important. BTW, the average rank for offenses winning the SB is 7.9 or 8th overall. So, you mean to tell me we need to blather on about defense winning championships when the ratio is 7th ranked D is average winner and 8th ranked O? My goodness.

ShanghaiKid's picture

@John Kirk Great coaching or great QB play can certainly transcend any blemishes a team may have. Put great coaching and great QB play together, a la Brady/Belichick and you have a transcendental run. Just like Lombardi/Starr, Walsh/Montana etc etc.

Your stats are undeniable, assuming of course they’re credible. Which, they seem to be, without doing my own independent research. So seriously, hats off, that’s quite a bit of deep research and I commend you. Your statement “A new, better head coach would would also help the ratio too.” Is what caught my eye.

My question to you, and all other Pack fans is this; Who is better than MM right now, that is available? I understand he’s not an all timer. Is he great? Arguable. Is he above average and excellent? I say yes, and It’s not a popular opinion, and I get that. But who could the Packers replace him with in the current market of coaches that would navigate the team to a ‘ship? I’m up for improvement if there are candidates worthy of replacing a SB winning coach.

John Kirk's picture

I appreciate the kind words but the research I did was rather quick. You can click around this link and find most everything I posted here:

http://www.nfl.com/superbowlchamps/defense

As for MM, rating coaches will always be a subjective exercise. We'll never know how many more or less SB's the Patriots have with MM instead of Belichick and the Packers had they had Belichick instead of MM. Of course, the GM factors, too.

My subjective analysis of MM is that he is not a smart man. Not Forrest Gump, but not Belichick bright. I've never once heard any story of MM's vast football knowledge. When I tuned in for the TEN vs. NE game the broadcast team went on and on about how Belichick recited basically the Titans roster including their ST's guys and detailed them in impressive fashion. Bill is a football guy. I see MM as a guy who coaches football. Holmgren struck me as a bright guy. Also, MM doesn't inspire me at all. There are very few occasions where I ever felt we were in good hands at HC with him there. We're all different but my personal reaction to him isn't positive. I don't look for it to be positive or negative just whatever it is. Just like with Holmgren. I find MM to be the coaching equivalent of a try hard ST's guy who just doesn't have what it takes to be a position player of any significance. A Jarrett Bush of HC's, if you will. I think we've won what we've won in spite of him not because of him. I can't think of a single game where I left it thinking...man, we don't win that game if we don't have MM on the sidelines.

For me, it's about mindset, presence, and overall sense of a winner. All subjective. I don't like MM in any of those areas.

Who is better? Subjective and not provable. I know there are smarter, more presence, passionate coaches out there. I truly believe with all my heart (for emphasis) that Aaron Rodgers has ZERO respect for Mike McCarthy. I believe Aaron is leaps and bounds smarter in not only a general sense but in a football sense, too, and no person who is that much smarter than someone else can respect someone trying to tell them how to do things. It just doesn't work and isn't equitable. I think we need a HC that 12 is proud of that he wants to follow and will look up to. MM ain't that guy and I would bet everything I own on that.

Off topic, I think that's why Ball isn't GM. MM and 12 both saw the future with that buy running things and they both knew it wasn't bright. At least MM was smart enough to see that. :)

jh9's picture

Great comment. I totally agree with your analysis. Where have been all these years?

Minniman's picture

I'm not sure what others saw but I saw a pats D in the second half that got stops when they needed.

I wonder what their rankings were down the stretch (I suspect higher than their whole year aggregates), as this D got it done when it mattered...... then Brady was Brady

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

"The NFL has used YARDS as a more accurate measure [than scoring defense] for YEARS."

I don't think total yards is more accurate than points allowed per game. Thus, we disagree. Completely.

John Kirk's picture

The NFL has used yards for decades. That part isn't debatable.

New England's D is rated below the Packers for yards. 25th and 29th and back to back SBs.

I think it's interesting that the Top 2 defenses stacked up that way in yards and points. A huge discrepancy with New England. I saw a ton of New England games this season. That defense was not good. Yards more accurately reflected their defensive performance than points. Not much pass rush. Not very good vs the run and not great against the pass. I challenge you to tell me you watched a lot of them this year and you think they were a top tier defense. You can cite points as a stat and speak in generalities but do you honestly think they were good? Belong in bottom tier not top just as yards shows. No surprise to me.

Coldworld's picture

Good D, good offense: good chance

4thand1's picture

NE doesn't have a great defense, just guys doing what they're asked to do. They always come up with a play when it matters most. Execution is the key, NE does it better than anyone. Every other coach still hasn't taken notice.

Minniman's picture

I totally agree with this comment.

Case in point Ricky Jean Francois - the Packers midyear cast off - not necessarily lighting it up for the Pats but executing when called on.

Same too James Harrison.

Kudos to Belichick and Matt Patricia. They really understand the fundamentals of a good D [not that I do] and know just HOW to assess what a player can do and what role they need them to plug - and most importantly, how many reps per game they need them to do this.

ricky's picture

Great D? Jax gave up over 40 to Pitt. Eagles scored almost 40 on Minny. Coldworld said it best, a balanced attack of offense and defense is key. And when push domes to shove, the D or O (depending on who has the ball) has to rise to the challenge. Jax, Minny, NO and Pitt didn't. Philly and NE did.

Bure9620's picture

Situational defense is key in the NFL, you can be a bend don't break style, but you have to make plays on 3rd down. How many 3rd and longs did we give up this year????? If our defense had a 3rd and 8 or longer there was a long completion. We actually were okay on first and 2nd. We dont need to be the '15 Broncos or 2000 Ravens. We just need to get off the field in key situations.

nigrivasilayesrej's picture

Top 5 scoring DEF in the NFL this year -
1) Minn
2) Jax
3) SD
4) Phi
5) NE

For all the love that Brady gets (I admit he's the GOAT), the Patriots made 4 stops against Jax in the 4th quarter; gave up 6 points total in the 2nd half. Similar to the SB last year, in that the Brady come back never happens if the NE DEF doesn't shut out the Falcons in the 4th quarter.

John Kirk's picture

Redo that list with YARDS not points which is what the NFL has used for decades.

The Top 2 remain the same...

New England drops from 5th to 29th...and they get to see high powered O's like Miami with Cutler and Buffalo with Tyrod Taylor twice a year...Oh, and who can forget the juggernaut that is the Jets? Vikes got to load up on Hundley twice and Trubisky, twice. There's stats and then there's digging into them.

CAG123's picture

That’s what she said! Okay got that out the way, now let’s talk Packers football

Chuck Farley's picture

Ive always beleived that to win the sb a team must have above avg special teams, excellant defense that includes pass rush and pass defense, quality qb play an above avg run game. Any of those elements missing, and your an also ran. Only one team in my recollection that won a sb without the above, the ravens. They had a crap offense but the shut down d stopped other teams cold and scored enough points to win. They were not a complete team.

Seriously91's picture

Sorry David! You can keep your "D"
I will take the offense every day and twice on Sundays!

JohnnyLogan's picture

... and home field advantage. NE has a great QB and an all time great coach. They generally have a weak division and end up with home field. It's a big plus. NE doesn't blow people away, they somehow end up winning, often late. Their D came through in the 2nd half but so did the refs. Ten yards of penalties all game. They were holding and half their completions are on blatant pick plays, and the DB's were grabbing the whole game. Yet 10 yards of penalties. In today's NFL, if the refs give you extra yardage, you have an added element to offense, defense and special teams. Refs.

Lphill's picture

Give Rodgers a defense in the top 12 and he will do the rest . Trent Dilfer and Payton Manning on the Broncos needed number 1 defenses to win , Rodgers does not.

Rossonero's picture

I could've sworn MIke McCarthy was on the Jaguars sideline calling plays in the 2nd half. Predictable runs up the middle on first down, abandoning the play action that had been successful and in general, playing not to lose instead of playing to win.

I hope McCarthy watched the Patriots dig into their bag of tricks. When is the last time we did a flea flicker? Or the pitch and lateral play? Patriots had to dig deep, but they do whatever it takes to win. I hope McCarthy is taking notes during these playoffs. His job depends on it next season. Getting to the wildcard or divisional round is not enough.

Tundraboy's picture

Spot on. I also felt like Capers was coaching the Vikings secondary yesterday as well last.

Rossonero's picture

Thanks. Good point about the Vikings secondary.

Chuck Farley's picture

Ya the irony, the Vikes play small ball and always have and the Eagles did too turning it on them. Quick hits down field, out passes to the tight ends, crossing routes and slants, all plays that the MM offense doesnt have. It all verticle.

Coldworld's picture

These kind of tweaks largely left when Philbin did. Let’s hope they return with him too.

Chuck Farley's picture

I dont think the Pats have a great D. they are above avg is all. That is why I can see the Eagles winning this game by getting ahead and staying there. I dont see a huge comeback against there defense as they did last year.
Still you got to have a decent defense. The packers sucks and the team is going nowhere but 8-8 with them.

Chuck Farley's picture

You guys want a good laugh, the vike fans and doing what ever they can to unload their super bowl tickets.
Saw and irate fan on TV yesterday bitching that 'hey we paid a lot of good money to fly to Philly for his game only to see the team play awful, what a waste of money that was'.
Not a Vike fan I got a good laugh on that one. Happy campers they aint around here. Not hearing anyone praising the season the team just had thats for sure. Theres a lot of four letter words being used the last few days.

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