How do you build a strong defense?
Traditional thinking on the subject is that consistency of talent is more important for defense than it is for offense. The thinking stems from the idea that the offense has the initiative, it decides what kind of play it is going to run. Take for example the simple decision of whether to run or to pass, it's the offense that gets to decide. Therefore an offense can afford to have less consistent talent because if it has a great running back it can choose to run, if it has great WRs it can choose to pass. The defense, however, can't determine whether to run or pass therefore it needs to be ready for anything. It needs a secondary as good as it's line because if it's deficient, the other team can decide to take advantage of that weakness.
But is this really true? I intend to argue no after the jump.I want to draw your attention first to the 2007 and 2011 New York Giants. Few would argue that the Giants defenses played predominant roles in those teams winning superbowls. Let me ask you two questions: 1) Who were the Giants defensive linemen? 2) Who manned the Giants secondary? Well, in the secondary they had the marginally effective Aaron Ross both years. In 2011 Aaron Ross was starting because their #1 CB, Terrelle Thomas, was on IR. They also had the forgettable Corey Webster in 2007. But on the defensive line the names immediately jump to mind: Osi, JJP, Tuck, Canty. Who could forget those guys?
Going back to our theory about a defense needing consistency across all positions, the Giants defenses do not display this at all. In both cases they had below-average secondaries but a defensive line that was the best in the league.
Now let me draw your attention to another defensive powerhouse, the 2009-2010 New York Jets, for my money the best defense in the league those years. Let's ask the same question of those teams. 1) Who were the Jets defensive linemen? 2) Who manned the Jets' secondary?
The secondary this time comes much more quickly. Every fan knows the greatness of Darrelle Revis and envies the fact that the team can pair that talent with Cromartie/Lito Shepperd and have Kerry Rhodes putting up CB-like passes defended numbers at safety. Moving to the defensive line they had Calvin Pace and his 6 sacks and I guess Sione Pohuta is a good nose tackle, plus Bart Scott at linebacker. The Jets had amazing secondaries but were pretty 'meh' in the front-7 for an elite defense.
Looking at this exercise we see that some of the best defenses in the past 5 years were not models of consistency with great players everywhere you turned. In fact, they had JAGs at many positions. What made these defenses great was that they excelled at either their defensive line or in the secondary. The Jets were a team that could cover your receivers all day long even if their defensive line wasn't breaking any sack records. The Giants were a team rolling out easily toasted corners but teams couldn't take advantage of them because their QB was always on his back from the ferocious d-line.
What this teaches us is that defenses should endeavor to either be great on their d-line or in their secondary. This offseason opened the door to Dallas to do just that. They signed the best young corner in free agency by adding Brandon Carr. Then instead of trying to go for consistency and find themselves a safety or DE to spread out the talent, they double-dipped at the same position, adding a great CB prospect in Morris Claiborne.
A secondary that goes 4-deep in talent with Carr, Jenkins, Claiborne, and Scandrick rivals what the Jets have done in investing in their CB position to create their formidable defense. If being elite in one part of your defense is what makes it formidable, opponents expecting to put up yet another 30-point game on the Cowboys could be in for a big surprise in 2012.