In a quarterback-driven world, does defense still win championships?
The cliché says yes, of course. No coach is going to come out in favor of a soft defense. But is defense still as important as it was in the days of the Doomsday Defense and the No-Name Defense and the Steel Curtain? Is hounding the opposing quarterback as important today as it used to be?
Often these days, it seems that winning a football game is a matter of holding on and waiting for a turnover.
Consider Atlanta, which is on a nice little run as it enters the NFC Conference game against Green Bay. It ranks only 27th in scoring defense in a 32-team league. The Packers are only 23rd. Both teams are in the 20s in yards allowed. (To be, fair, New England is first in both scoring defense and total defense.)
Frankly, it isn’t that rare.In 2013, the New England Patriots reached the AFC title game with the league’s 26th-best defense. In 2012, the Falcons (24th) and the Patriots (25th) were near the bottom in yards allowed.
Now, consider the original selections of this year’s Pro Bowl team. The Patriots had two defensive players picked. The Falcons had one and the Packers had one. The Steelers didn’t have anyone.
Then there is reputation. With coach Bill Belichick, it is still possible to think of the Patriots as a big-game defense. The Steelers (although they were a bit better than average at 12th), maybe. But both Green Bay and Atlanta are built on offense.
Of course, in the big game, defense still has a part. Last year, Denver’s defense harassed Cam Newton endlessly. The year before, the Patriots won on a goal line interception late in the game. The year before that, the Seahawks were all over Peyton Manning
You wonder what Chuck Noll would think watching today. Or Don Shula. Or Vince Lombardi.
Of course, those guys had pretty good quarterbacks, too.