2011 seemed to be a season in which high-powered offense ruled the NFL. But as this weekend’s playoffs concluded, three defensive powerhouses remain, and the high-flying aerial attacks of Green Bay and New Orleans were sent packing.
But, sure, defense is just your daddy’s football …
There’s no doubt that the passing attacks of teams like the Green Bay Packers and the New Orleans Saints are something to marvel at. During the regular season, Drew Brees threw for career highs in passing yards (5,476), touchdowns (46) and completion percentage (71.2%). Aaron Rodgers, meanwhile, threw 502 passes (31 times per game) and was intercepted just six times all season. I mean … wow!
So, I understand why it’s easy to look at what those teams are doing and think you’re watching the NFL’s Cream of the Crop. But offense is only one part of the equation. You still have to play the other side of the field. The Packers ranked dead-last in the league in yards allowed during the regular season. And the Saints? A pedestrian 24th.
Both teams had those weaknesses on defense exposed in front of the world this weekend. And that was how the lack-luster offense of the 49ers kept pace with the Saints, while allowing their defense to shut down the aerial assault on 11 of 16 series, holding New Orleans out of the endzone in a critical third quarter situation.
The Giants, whose offensive attack was on par with the top ten in the league this season, throttled the Packers 37-20 and sacked Aaron Rodgers four times, holding him to just 264 yards passing, two TDs and an interception. New York easily looks to be the most balanced team remaining in the playoffs.
Even the red-hot New England Patriots have concerns as Tom Brady continues to torch their path to Super Bowl 46. The team’s defense pulled in one spot behind Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in yardage allowed this season at 31st.
Fans now seem to be gearing up for what could be an East-Coast rematch of Super Bowl 42, in which the unlikely Giants defeated the Patriots 17-14 in Glendale, Arizona. Even that season, New England was being touted as one of the greatest teams of all time after compiling a 16-0 record, and setting NFL records on offense with 589 points scored and 75 total touchdowns. But despite all that firepower, the Giants’ defense proved too much for the Patriots to overcome. Quarterback Eli Manning made key plays in key spots, and the Giants became just the fourth team in NFL history to win the Super Bowl without having played a single home game during the playoffs.
If you take a look at a list of Super Bowl Champions in recent years, the dynamic is really quite fitting. About 50% of the time, a defensive powerhouse takes the title. The other 50%, an offensive giant prevails. Of course, many more balanced teams have also hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, making the Bears fan in me optimistic (more on that in a minute).
So, why is it that with three defensive juggernauts still in the mix (NY, SF and BAL), it seems like the world is ready to crown the Patriots before the game is even played? The betting lines already show them as the favorite to win it all. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not debating the validity of that. It certainly has something to do with Tom Brady and his ability to carve up a defense—many times singlehandedly. But perhaps it’s just the attention the casual fan pays to the explosive nature of high-flying offense.
Whatever the case, I for one, am rooting for a defensive blood fest.
Oh yeah … so, why am I optimistic as a Bears fan? Well, here in Chicago, we already have the quarterback. If the new GM wants to play defensive-minded football, I’m all for it. Provided that individual does not neglect glaring needs on offense and provides Jay with real play-makers to work with. If that is the case, and the Bears can nail the 2012 draft and free agency, there is NO reason to think they can’t be right back in the mix.