The saying goes, “Offense sells tickets. Defense wins championships.” Having a flashy offense with a quarterback who can throw the ball 80 yards through the air is great and all, but a defensive unit that can counteract those talents is arguably more valuable, or at least you’d think.
In reality, offense has become the more important factor in a team’s Super Bowl viability. Since 2011, only one team has reached the Super Bowl with an offense that ranked in the bottom-half of the league: the 2015 Denver Broncos. The only other teams to even rank outside the top 10 in total offense are the 2013 Seattle Seahawks and the 2021 Cincinnati Bengals. Twelve of the 22 Super Bowl teams in that span ranked inside the top 5 in total offense. Of those 22 teams, six ranked in the bottom-half of the league in total defense — albeit only two of them actually won the Super Bowl, but the data remains. Three of those six teams ranked 25th or worse in total defense.
Obviously, this isn’t to say that teams can’t benefit from having an elite defense. Defense is tremendously important. However, if a team like the Buffalo Bills, who finished the regular season ranking No. 1 in total defense, can still allow the Kansas City Chiefs to drive down the field and score with only 13 seconds left, then maybe an elite defense isn’t as pivotal to a team’s championship hopes as it was once believed. In a day and age where a good form tackle that looks bad on TV gets you penalized, gently touching the opposing quarterback after he releases the ball gets you penalized, and offenses draw up deep shots specifically to draw DPI calls, it’s hard for a great defense to do exactly what it should — help win the field position battle.
Five of the top 10 defenses (in terms of total yardage allowed) in 2021 didn’t even reach the playoffs. Just two of the top 10 offenses met the same fate. In 2020, the ratio was eight top 10 defenses to nine top 10 offenses.
2018 : 7-8
2017 : 7-8
In each of the past five seasons, more top 10 offenses have reached the playoffs than top 10 defenses, but yes, it’s been close every year except 2021. And as I said earlier, those great defenses don’t help you reach the super Bowl once you make the playoffs. In the playoffs, seemingly all that matters is having a capable offense.
Ask anyone why the Chiefs lost the AFC Championship Game two Sundays ago. Did they lose because of poor defensive play? Sure, their defensive unit wasn’t insanely stout and otherworldly, but they did hold the Bengals to just 10 points in the first half, and only two touchdowns the whole game. The Chiefs lost that game because an otherwise unstoppable offense, led by Patrick Mahomes, disappeared for the final 30 minutes. Mahomes looked lost out there at times, just running around without a plan. His passer rating in the first half was an astonishing 149.9. In the second half, it plummeted to 34.0. To put that in perspective, Mahomes’ passer rating if he had just thrown the ball straight into the ground every play would’ve been 39.6. It wasn’t until that Chiefs offense fell apart that Kansas City lost the game.
Also, don’t tell me the Chiefs’ offense started playing poorly because of elite defensive adjustments from the Bengals. Yes, there were some great defensive adjustments made by the Bengals in the second half such, as opting to drop eight-plus men into coverage on 45 percent of their defensive snaps in the second half (season-high), but make no mistake, the Bengals’ defense still took a very long time to get to Mahomes on several snaps. The coverage downfield was great, but Andy Reid, Eric Bieniemy, and company need to adjust their play-calling against such a trend. Maybe run inside more often. If you’re dead-set on passing the ball, maybe draw up a few more hitches, because if every corner and linebacker is dropping, they usually won’t press at the line. Maybe design a few plays with four receivers to one side with either Tyreek Hill or Travis Kelce as the lone threat on the opposite side to try to force more 1-on-1 situations with your best receiving threats.
Obviously, I’m not a coach, and I’m not going to pretend to know more than a Super Bowl-winning coach in Reid. I don’t, and anyone who thinks I’d have better ideas than him is a damn fool. All I’m saying is that the Chiefs faltered on the offensive side, and while the Bengals did play great defense, that was not what ultimately won Cincinnati the game.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, this is a quarterback league. Quarterbacks are the stars. They are what drive the league’s profit margin and the league does anything they can to ensure that, 1) they stay healthy, and 2) they thrive. Even the best defenses are no match for an elite quarterback in today’s game, and until there comes a time when either the rules change or the game is revolutionized to limit a quarterback’s impact on the game, offenses will reign supreme. So, either get with the times, or get used to having an early draft pick. Defenses can win championships still, but they need to be all-time great defenses, and frankly, there aren’t many of those wandering about in the NFL anymore.
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