"Offense wins games and Defense wins championships"
It is a moniker that has been prevalent in NFL circles ever since grown men decided to put a pigskin on a field and smash into each other over it. The theory even seems to hold true throughout the majority of NFL history. Vaunted units such as the Steel Curtain, and the Doomsday, and the '85 Bears all struck terror into their opponents and in doing so won NFL championships. Players such as Dick Butkus, Mean Joe Greene, and Lawrence Taylor were all synonymous with being borderline career criminals (well LT lost the borderline tag), assaulting and mugging people on a football field for a living.
But the game is changing. Recently, the NFL has cracked down on ferocious hits that used to be integral parts of the game (just ask James Harrison's accountant). Defenders do not have the tenacity and free-for-all attitude that used to define the game's best. This change in the game raises a plethora of questions. Not only about the NFL itself, but also in regards to how our Cowboys need to evolve our defense to fit the new NFL. Why has the Dallas D performed so poorly, notably late in games? What types of players does a winning defense need in the NFL these days? Can we get those players? And most of all, does defense really still win championships?
Lets find out.
The best way to find out if defense still wins championships is simple: See who has won them recently. The results are surprising. Dating back to the year 2000, there have been 12 Super Bowls played and won (none of which, as I am sure you know, by the Dallas Cowboys). Of those 12, only twice has the losing team's offense been held to 10 points or less( Giants 01, Seahawks 06). In fact, five teams that lost the Super Bowl scored more than 20 points in their losing efforts. 11 of the 12 winners of the Super Bowl have scored over 20 points in the game, with the 08 Giants being the lone exception.
So if defense wins championships, why does it seem the numbers tell us that it is in fact the offenses that do it? Of those same previous 12 winners, only two truly had shut-em-down, knock-em-out defenses (the 01 Ravens and 03 Bucs). 7 times the winner had a phenomenally good offense, including the Saints and Packers from the previous two years. Who died and made offenses king?
Nobody. In fact, upon closer inspection, these teams would not have won Super Bowls without their defenses. But it is not the same old mantra at play here, teams pitching shutouts and dominating the game defensively. Rather, it is one factor that both teams excelled at and most of the upper echelon of our league also excels at: Turnovers.
With 5 minutes to go in Super Bowl 44, the Saints scored a touchdown along with a 2 point conversion to take a 7 point lead over the favored Colts. But, the doubters believed the Saints still had no chance. How on Earth could the defense that allowed the 6th most points in the league stop Peyton Manning in his drive to win a 2nd Super Bowl. But they did stop him. Nobody chose to remember that the 09-10 Saints ranked 3rd in the NFL in interceptions. A timely pick by Tracy Porter, and 74 awe-inspiring, jump-for-joy inducing, cinderella-esque yards later and the Saints were seconds away from a Super Bowl Championship for their ravaged city.
The 2010-11 Green Bay Packers were known for offense. After scoring a TD late into the first quarter to take an early lead in Super Bowl 45, the Packers kicked off and took the field to try and defend their lead. Instead, they added to it. The team that allowed the 10th most points in the league also managed to procure the 2nd most picks in the league, and added to that total on the following drive. A poor throw by Big Ben and 37 yards later Nick Collins was dancing in the endzone on his way to a new shiny ring. And who can forget the 100 yards of rumbling, bumbling, and stumbling done by James Harrison in Super Bowl 43 for the Steelers.
When examining the 2011 NFL regular season stats, it looks to be these new rules are holding true. The Packers lead the league in yards allowed per game, but also lead in interceptions. They are followed by the Patriots, who is naturally 2rd most in yards allowed. For comparisons sake the Cowboys allowed 21.7 points a game, 17th most in the league. And guess where we rank in interceptions? 17th. Average, average, average.
This offseason, the Cowboys don't need shutdown corners. They are few in far between, and the money they require is simply too much with all the other holes on this team (as we so kindly learned during the Chronicles of Nnamdi-a). We need players that intercept the ball, that make plays for their team and get the ball in our offenses hands. That is the new forumla for winning football games and championships. We seem to have all the parts for an upper tier offense, and the easiest way to make them perform better is to give them more possessions per game. The ball in Tony's and Demarco's hands is a good thing for this team.
8 Players had interceptions for the Cowboys this year. Only 3 of those players had more than one (Sensi 2, T-New 4, and Sean Lee 4). It is a problem when our best corner (Jenkins) ties with a backup D-lineman (Jason Hatcher) on picks for the year. All of this accompanied with only one pick-6 and Dallas, we have a problem. Perhaps it is technique that derives from their coaching, and we will find out next year with a likely change impending on the DB coach (Please don't come back Dave Campo, we have seen enough). But the fact remains. We need players that get the ball in our offenses hands. It is the new formula for winning in the NFL, and it is time for us to start cooking.
A lot of people are calling for us to go after Cortland Finnegan. He had only 1 pick this year, but had 5 in 2008 and 2009. That shows the ability is likely there for him to prosper in a ball hawking role. Brent Grimes is another potential free agent this spring. Like Finnegan, only 1 pick this year, but was able to capture 5 and 6 in the previous two seasons, respectively. Brandon Carr had 4 this year, but may only be a flash in the pan after having 4 in his career prior to this year. My pet cat would be Terrell Thomas, the Giants CB. He missed this whole year with injury, but if he is able to come back healthy he could be a real value if teams overlook him. 10 picks in the previous 2 season, and he is young. It does not look like the Giants will be able to re-sign him, and its always nice to steal talent from division rivals.
BtB nation has taken notice. A lot of posts have been dedicated to our defense, and how we need to improve it. Some say pass rush, others say shutdown corners, and still others say do nothing. It is time to come to a realization. The era of dominant defense is over, and the age of airing it out has become prevalent. The best way to combat these aerial attacks is to catch the ball they throw before their player does. We need more players that do this with a star on their helmet. We need interceptions. Anybody have Deion Sanders' phone number?