Era of 'defense wins championships' is over

January, 14, 2013
1/14/13
11:45
AM ET

Rest in peace, defense. We’ll miss you. You had a good run. You gave us a lot of memories. You were responsible for great nicknames like the Purple People Eaters and the Steel Curtain. You even gave us a cliché -- “Defense wins championships” -- that had the added benefit of being true ... for a time. But that time is over.

The Broncos scored 35 points in the divisional round in single-digit temperatures. And lost. The Packers scored 31 points and lost. The Seahawks and Texans both scored 28 points and saw their seasons end. The losing teams in the second round of the playoffs averaged 30.5 points per game. The winners averaged 38.5. This is not the NFL you grew up with. These are closer to Big Ten basketball scores than traditional playoff football scores.

But adapt or die. Die like defense has died. NFL teams must learn to play “defense” -- or whatever new name it is eventually given -- in modern times. Here’s how.

Bend and break

Look, you’re going to give up points. That’s a given. But does it have to be instantly? At least make your opponent go on a three- or four-minute scoring drive so your offense can rest a little bit between its scoring drives.

Don’t spend money on “defense”

Why spend big money on a pass-rusher or defensive back that could instead be budgeted for an extra tight end or dynamic third-down back? Your defense is going to get torched regardless, so why waste money on it? Oh, look! Your $10 million linebacker got to the quarterback! And now he’s being penalized for roughing the passer. Money well spent.

Don’t commit penalties

Most forms of tackling are now outlawed. Defensive pass interference is called approximately seven million times more than offensive pass interference (rough estimate). This is not going to change. Don’t fight it. And don’t give your opponent free yards with your penalties. Why are you jumping offsides? Did you want to get a head-start on your fine for hitting the quarterback? No, it’s better to avoid penalties and just try to gently angle your offensive opponents out of bounds after they break into the secondary. Getting them out of bounds can stop the clock and give your offense more time to catch its breath.

Give up fast late-game scores

Your team is winning by four points with 90 seconds left in the game. What do you do? Try to stop your opponent from scoring a touchdown? AHHHHHHHHHHHahahahahahaha. Stop living in the past, man. Chances are you’re not going to stop them from scoring a touchdown. What you need to do is practice smart defensive failure clock management and let them score a touchdown immediately. That way you get the ball back in the hands of your offense with enough time to win the game with a touchdown of its own.

Know your role

Look, you play defense. Not everyone can be important like offensive players or even kickers, who score points. You are now regarded as the equals of punters: something that has been part of football for decades and no one can figure out how to completely get rid of. But you still have some worth. Because sometimes a quarterback will accidentally throw you the ball and you can catch it and run with it and score a touchdown, and for that brief moment you will know what it’s like to be relevant. And it will feel amazing.

 

Quote of the Week

New England does some suspect stuff on offense. Can't really respect it. Comparable to a cheap shot b4 a fight - Brendon Ayanbadejo, backup Ravens linebacker, opining on New England’s offense on Twitter

Ayanbadejo didn’t stop there on Twitter, either. He apparently doesn’t care for the Patriots very much and proceeded to bring up Spygate and 18-1, among other things. Essentially, he said a lot of things that would be comparable to a cheap shot “b4” a fight.

It will be interesting to see if Ayanbadejo can back up his words in the AFC title game. You might doubt it, but I think he can. He has a lot of experience as a backup.

 

Stat of the Week

181

San Francisco Colin Kaepernick ran for 181 yards against Green Bay’s defense-like substance, an NFL record for rushing yards by a quarterback in a single game.

I would like to congratulate 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh for using a weapon like Kaepernick to his full potential. If you have a quarterback who can run and knows when to tuck it and take off down the field, there’s no reason to put handcuffs on him. You would be insane to not use a weapon like that.

Also, I would like to go on the record as saying the following now, in case Kaepernick should ever suffer any sort of injury while running: WHAT WERE YOU THINKING, HARBAUGH? You can’t just let a quarterback run around! Eventually he’s going to get hurt! You have a weapon like Kaepernick, and this is how you protect him? Are you insane?

 

Misleading Stat of the Week

94

Houston safety Danieal Manning opened the Texans-Patriots divisional game with a 94-yard kickoff return. 7-0, Texans! But, no. He got tackled at the 12 and Houston only scored a field goal -- and soon fell behind 17-3. However, Manning’s return will go down as the second-longest kick return in postseason history that did not result in a touchdown. So despite the playoff loss, Manning has an impressive stat. In that way, Danieal Manning is far more Peyton Manning than Eli Manning.

 

This Week’s Playoff “X-Factor” All-Stars



Joe Flacco, QB, Ravens: 18-for-34, 331 yards, 3 TD, 1 fumble

Shane Vereen, RB, Patriots: 124 total yards, 3 TD

Jason Snelling, RB, Falcons: 5 receiving yards, TD

Anthony Dixon, RB, 49ers: 1 carry, 2 yards, TD

Jacoby Jones, WR, Ravens: 2 catches, 77 yards, TD

Congratulations, men. You exceeded everyone’s expectations this weekend, because no one expected anything from you.

 

Photos of the Week

“Maybe I should do a dance.”

“Where’s Champ Bailey? Ah, there he is.”

“No, you can’t have some. If you wanted a snack, you should have had your mom pack you one like mine did.”

“Seriously, you guys! I saw some awful plays during college football season, but Peyton’s pass was the worst!”

“What are you doing, coach? That was a terrible decision.”

“Just a few more seconds and you’ll be dead and all the pain will be gone.”

“Good thing they didn’t draft you, huh? This guy might have taken your job.”

“Ouch. I’m just going to run past them the rest of the game so this doesn’t happen.”

“I think I’m going to get a Colin Kaepernick Fathead.”

“After this game, though, I’m really concerned about our chances, what with all the problems.”

“Which cereal did you just compare my girlfriend to?”

SportsNation

Which most accurately describes your opinion of Peyton Manning?

  •  
    23%
  •  
    41%
  •  
    36%

Discuss (Total votes: 3,151)

“It depicts a depressed seahawk pondering whether to hurl itself off the Space Needle.”

“I am tempted to play one more year for the opportunity to punch you in the face.”

“I must kiss your adorably tiny head.”

“Look at that. What a disaster. Why will he never let me take him shopping?”

“The first half is over? I didn’t even finish describing the opening kickoff return yet.”

“If he mentions again that we have the same playoff record now, I’m going to freak out.”

 

Press Conference Questions Someone Should Have Asked



Mike McCarthy: “Does it feel good to know that while your team is eliminated from the playoffs on the field, it will still be seen in the postseason during every commercial break?”

John Fox: “Was this team better in the playoffs last year with Tim Tebow at quarterback? I’m sorry. I said that wrong. I meant: Would this team have been better in the playoffs this year with Tim Tebow at cornerback?”

Bill Belichick: “What possible explanation do you have for playing a still-injured Rob Gronkowski? Wait, I’m sorry. He’s not a young, mobile quarterback, so no one cares about this. Please disregard my question.”

 

Reader Twitter Question of the Week



In Joe Flacco’s past three playoff games, dating back to last year’s AFC title game, he has seven touchdowns and one interception and has noticeably outplayed superior “elite” quarterbacks in each game: Brady, Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning. What? Huh? Whaaaa? All of these are valid questions when met with this information.

Is Flacco the best quarterback in the NFL, as he said he was in the offseason? No. But is he the inaccurate, late-game turnover machine who is the sole reason a talented Ravens team hasn’t won a Super Bowl the past four years? Not the last two postseasons.

Maybe he is simply the NFL’s greatest troll. Hear me out. Consider the evidence. He comes into the league with a highly mockable unibrow. He proceeds to play in a mediocre fashion yet is able to ride Ray Rice and his defense into the playoffs year after year and win postseason games. (Remember: Flacco has “beaten” Brady in the playoffs once before, going 4-for-10 for 34 yards and an interception in a 33-14 Baltimore victory at New England in the wild-card round three years ago.) He regularly talks about his greatness. And now, from out of nowhere, he has gaudy playoff statistics.

He is a troll. He is just messing with all of us. Just ignore him and he will go away.

You still don’t seem convinced. My case wasn’t convincing. Fine.

How about this?



Yeah. He’s trolling us.

 

How They Will Spend Their Offseasons



Broncos: Constructing a dome over Sports Authority Field per Peyton Manning’s orders.

Packers: Bringing in Rod Hubble to interview for defensive coordinator.

Seahawks: Scouting college prospects who are too short to play in the NFL.

Texans: Laughing at the Cowboys.

 

Five Things I Think You Think They Think I Think



1. Don’t be surprised if Peyton Manning shows up to camp a few hundred pounds overweight this summer. He has to be depressed after throwing another awful interception in a playoff game, and he has access to two million free pizzas.

2. Former Bills QB Jim Kelly couldn’t win a Super Bowl because Scott Norwood missed a field goal. Matt Ryan was moments away from being the newest chokiest playoff failure who ever choked before Matt Bryant made a field goal. Tom Brady has three Super Bowl rings, but each of those games was won by three points. If former Patriots and current Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri was a “choker,” Brady would be thought of as one, too -- especially when you consider his performances in New England’s recent Super Bowls. My point is this: When considering a quarterback’s reputation, don’t forget the role the literally little guys played in creating it.

[+] EnlargeMatt Schaub
Phil Carter/US PresswireUnfortunately for Houston, Matt Schaub may not be elite enough to take his team to the Super Bowl.
3. The Texans have a problem. It’s the same problem the Eagles and Bears and Chargers had. It’s the same problem the Bengals probably have. It’s the same problem the Ravens could have. Their coach and quarterback are good enough to get into the playoffs most years, but they're not good enough to win a Super Bowl. And being almost good enough is bad. Terrible, even. Being almost good enough often looks like it’s good enough. So you think next year will be different. That you’re close. But then eight years have come and gone with Matt Schaub as your quarterback ... or Donovan McNabb as your quarterback ... or Norv Turner coaching you ... or Marvin Lewis coaching you ... and your talented team’s window of opportunity has closed and you have nothing to show for it.

If you’re really good -- I’ve heard the term “elite” used once or twice -- you win a Super Bowl or two. And if you stink, your team can press reset and try to get a Luck or a Robert Griffin III or an up-and-coming head coach. But almost good enough? Doomed. Doomed to a decade-long zombie walk of 9-7 or 10-6 playoff appearances, near misses and heart-breaking playoff defeats. This is why Jim Harbaugh deserves so much credit for making the move to Colin Kaepernick. Alex Smith was almost good enough. Kaepernick may be great.

Great is great. Terrible is great. In the middle is awful.

So be great today. Or terrible. Anything else and you’re just wasting everyone’s time.

4. Tony Gonzalez and Ray Lewis are both playing their final season. Yet Lewis’ exit is garnering far more coverage than Gonzalez’s. Far, far, far more. And there’s been no media race to give Gonzalez a job after the season. Why?

Offensive players get more coverage in the NFL than defensive players. Atlanta is a much bigger media market than Baltimore. And Gonzalez’s name is all over the NFL record book for his gaudy stats, while Lewis’ isn’t.

Both are all-time greats, but everything above suggests Gonzalez should be the higher-profile player.

What is it, then? The only possible answer is dancing. Lewis created a famous dance; Gonzalez did not.

So what have we learned here today, kids? Be great. And if you can’t be great, be terrible. And if you’re going to be great, be sure to draw attention to yourself with a terrible dance.

I think I missed my calling as a high school guidance counselor.

5. We stand again on the verge of a Harbaugh Super Bowl. Meanwhile, several NFL teams are still looking for head coaches. It doesn’t take a genius to figure this out: hire a Harbaugh, have success.

What if a team could hire a younger Harbaugh? A more attractive Harbaugh? They’d jump at the chance. Yet Joani Crean, the Harbaugh boys’ little sister and wife of Indiana basketball coach Tom Crean, can’t get an interview. Brian Billick is getting consideration, but not Joani. It’s sexism. Some people just aren’t ready for a world in which women crush Jim Schwartz’s hand and run up the score on Pete Carroll. I don’t know why. That world sounds kind of awesome.

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