Defense doesn't win championships.
Wait for it...wait...
There it is! I knew you'd say, "What about the '86 Bears?" or "The '00 Ravens won with Trent Dilfer--gotta be defense."
Take a deep breath, swallow and read a few articles that clearly demonstrate that defense does not win championships. It certainly is part of the equation but hardly a measuring stick by which we should build our team. A much better predictor of a team's ability to bring home the Lombardi is passer rating differential (PDR). I will not argue this point. Read the articles.
Let's move on to the lesson part. Since we know that defense doesn't win championships we should rethink the ol' ground-n-pound approach to football. Instead we should focus on passing and to a lesser degree stopping the pass--that's it in a nutshell. PDR is as close as we get to baseball's on-base-percentage in terms of quality predictors yet it still isn't perfect. It's good enough to know that we shouldn't waste our time on run-stopping monsters if we're giving up yards in the air. Since we know this fact teams should plan accordingly and build their rosters for today's NFL.
For the Colts there is a clear message: you may wish to spend lots of picks building your defensive behemoth but it will be a foolish investment. Using high draft picks for defensive linemen will most certainly be money spent poorly unless they knock down quarterbacks frequently. You may wish to find the next Ray Lewis but you really should be looking for is the next Marvin Harrison, Tony Gonzalez or Anthony Munoz. If you insist on spending picks on defense they need to be guys that defend the pass. Ideally we're seeking the next Ed Reed, Champ Bailey or Clay Matthews rather than that run-stopping nose tackle.
If you'd like a good example of this in action consider the 2011 Giants and Patriots. They were ranked 27th and 31st overall in regular season total defense. They were 29th and 31st against the pass! Neither team was particulary good against the run (and it really doesn't matter anyway). What both teams did however was finish in the top 12 in terms of PDR. New England finished #2 while NY finished #12. Both teams have spent wisely on receivers, offensive linemen and tight ends recently.
One last thing: they've both got excellent quarterbacks. That may have something to do with all of this...
After following the links to the Freakonomics chart on the Super Bowl teams O & D rankings, I was somewhat surprised that the trend has actually been towards defenses in recent years. Since 2000 we've seen seven Super Bowl champions with offenses outside the top 10, and only the Colts & Saints won with 1st or 2nd rated O's. Defense has similar stats during that stretch. But from 1991-99 the champs' offensive ratings were all in the top three, with five #1's. Five championship D's during that stretch were outside the top 10, though none was lower than 15. I'd be curious what the chart would look like for the 70's and 80's.
Good writeup Todd. I'm intrigued by the CHFF article you posted. I'm currently throwing together a Google Doc, comparing PRD to actual success (i.e. wins), I'll post my findings in a minute.
Not that anyone cares but.... Here's a spreadsheet of 2010's Projected Success (from CHFF's PDR) vs. Actual Success (Wins)
Todd, the pdr makes sense and I get the point about the passing game, on both sides, winning games. But, I'm a bit confused how GB and NY have passing defenses rated as low as you say, yet can have defensive passer ratings in the 60s (I read the chff article). Shouldn't the two be correlated?
@EconolineVan Correlated? Yes. Causal? No.
Remember that PDR is the difference between a your ability to pass and ability to stop the pass. In both cases (NE and NYG) their passing attacks were incredibly efficient (#2 and #5). So they were lousy defensively including against the pass. Just so happens they absolutely lit it up offensively, in particular through the air. That generated big differentials and propelled them into the Super Bowl.
In other words, their passing offense far outpaced any deficiencies their passing defense had.
@coltsauth_todd Well, I realize now I was looking at the 2010 data when I made my comment. I got the 2011 from NFL.com and it made more sense. There are a lot of ways to look at that data. I wonder if something more complex could be built than just the PDR. May have to play with that concept... One thing is for sure - the Ravens D always does well in defensive pass rating. All you would need is an offensive passer rating of 90 with their D and you would be in the same realm as New Orleans, New England etc, when it comes to PDR. I won't mind if Pagano gets the D into the 60s for def pass rating. Won't need an offensive rating of 120 then... Yeah, I know the PDR isn't causal. But fun to think what it could look like.
@coltsauth_todd So, when all is said and done, we could probably boil down the Polians' problem to one area (even though there was more than one) - they let the secondary get really bad. Over the last 3 years, that's what let the Colts PDR rise steadily. Stating the obvious, I suppose, but I guess it is as simple as that.
@EconolineVan That's the point my friend! If they're going to draft defense it has to be guys that defend the pass. Skip the big money on guys to stop the run. It doesn't pay.
@EconolineVan Agreed on the confusion. Passing Yards Allowed has been shown to not be a true indicator of a team's defensive success rate. (When a team is ahead most of the time, their opponents will always be throwing; thus, Passing Yards Allowed is inflated.)