The old mantra about stopping the run has become a little quaint now that conventional wisdom, and lots of evidence, has recast the NFL as a quarterback-driven league.
Getting steamrolled in the running game is no ticket to success, of course. Stopping quarterbacks becomes easier for defenses that dictate less favorable down-and-distance situations at least in part by controlling opposing running games.
The Arizona Cardinals allowed 145.2 yards per game on the ground last season, 30th in the NFL and their highest average since 2000. When Ray Horton, the Cardinals' new defensive coordinator, emphasized getting after opposing quarterbacks during his introductory news conference Wednesday, one Arizona fan wondered how the team might cope with NFC West power backs Frank Gore, Steven Jackson and Marshawn Lynch.
"I hope he has a plan for the physical backs in our division," the fan, Bruce, wrote.
The Pittsburgh Steelers played the run tough when Horton was an assistant there. Horton will of course want to stop the run effectively in Arizona. But there's a reason teams pay more for quarterbacks than for running backs, more for for pass-rushers than for run stuffers. They are harder to find and they tend to influence games more demonstrably.
Which brings me to a stat I've touched upon, but have not held up consistently enough: opponents' passer rating. Cold, Hard Football Facts has embraced it and I plan to include it in the weekly stat breakdowns offered here next season.
Check out the 2010 NFL leaders in passer rating allowed: Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Chicago, San Diego, Baltimore and the New York Jets. Teams with superior defensive passer ratings went 10-1 during the postseason. The 2009 regular-season leader: New Orleans, which won the Super Bowl.
The chart shows where NFC West teams ranked in opponents' passer rating for the regular season.