Defense wins championships… or… you have to have an elite quarterback to win the Super Bowl. Those are the fashionable choices but the reality is, to win a championship, it takes a village.
Many Arrowhead Addict fans are excited about the Chiefs’ current defense. I am, too. Some have said the Chiefs have a championship defense right now. But, it’s going to take more than that. Other fans say you have to have an elite quarterback to win championships but it’s going to take more than a good offense and defense to get to the Chiefs to the Super Bowl. It’s going to take everyone, including special teams, the front office and the fans.
All signs point to a community solution. A village approach.
Let’s see if the defense wins championships belief or the it’s a quarterback driven league notion can be proven using this year’s playoff games or find out if winning a championship has to do with something else. Focusing on this year’s playoff teams allows us to look at all the teams who already are champions of their own divisions, then we can see if their defensive rank, quarterbacking, or whatever it may be, helped them more in their playoff duels.
This year’s playoffs offer an interesting perspective about the place that defense has in a championship run, because the NFC and AFC representatives, the New York Giants and the New England Patriots, were ranked 27th and 31st in overall defense during the 2011 regular season.
While researching these playoffs, I found that it takes more than a strong offense and/or defense, because in this tournament, you can’t discount the importance of special teams.
In their divisional brawl with New Orleans, the San Francisco 49ers special teams unit repeatedly pinned the Saints deep inside their own territory and gave them a long field to deal with. Special teams also failed the 49ers when it counted most at the end of the Conference Championship game. And it was special teams that failed the Ravens in their bid for an AFC Championship.
It takes three very strong units, including special teams, for a team to actualize their championship aspirations. And, it takes more than that: Jeff Chadiha, a journalist for ESPN said,
A good friend of mine, a long time coach who’s been to the Super Bowl, told me that when you want to win a championships in this league, the whole organization has to have a championship year.
Everyone has to lift their level of performance to a place they have not previously performed to achieve the ultimate prize.
So, let’s play Where’s Waldo… er, I mean, where are the championship elements, in this year’s playoffs.
Breaking Down the Playoffs
A critique of each playoff game will determine if it was, defense, offense, special teams or some other element, that was the deciding difference in a game.
Each playoff team’s regular season defensive and offensive rankings were used. If defense wins championships then if a team had a higher ranked defense they should have won, right?
Reasonable doubt wins out.
In two games, when a defense was ranked higher than the opposing team’s offense, the team with the lower ranked offense, won.
Broncos offense (23) v. Steelers defense (1)- offense won
Texans offense (13) v. Bengals defense (7)- offense won
The Broncos took advantage of the Steelers’ mistakes in coverage and their offense provided the big plays for the margin of victory. The Texans beat the Bengals because Arian Foster is a hefty hunk of steamin’ junk, to quote the aphoristic James Taylor. For the Steelers and the Bengals, in this post season, defense does not win championships.
Two points offense
Of the 12 games played in this post season, rankings seemed to go out right the window.
Click to expand the graphic below to see the rankings of all playoff teams:
The Texans 2nd ranked defense lost to the Ravens’ 15th-ranked offense. While the Ravens’ third-ranked defense did beat the Texans 13th-ranked offense, many weren’t surprised since the Texans were using their third-string quarterback. Still, I’ll give it to Raven’s defense, which limited the Texans to 13 points..
One point defense
In the AFC Championship game, the Ravens ran into the number two offense in the league, but it wasn’t the Patriots offense that won this game; it was a Ravens special teams player, kicker Billy Cundiff, who provided the margin of defeat.
Minus one point special teams
The Broncos’ 23rd-ranked offense couldn’t get past the Patriots’ 31st-ranked defense in Foxborough. You might say the Patriots defense won, however that game was more about the high-powered, second-ranked Pats offense dominating the Broncos’ 20th-ranked defense. Tom Brady was pretty good that day, chucking six touchdown passes.
One point offense
The Giants defense may have been ranked 27th in the league, during the regular season, but those numbers don’t fairly represent the level at which they are performing in the post season. Not nearly and it’s because they got well in a hurry at the right time of year. When the Giants’ eighth-ranked offense beat the Falcons’ 12th-ranked defense, it was impressive and reminiscent of their playoff run in January 2008. It was even more impressive that the Giants defense nearly shut the Falcons out. Eli Manning gave up a safety to give the Falcons their only points of the game.
One point defense
When the Giant interrupted the relentless leaping at Lambeau, that game was not so well noted for the way Eli Manning was able to freely maneuver his troops down the chosen’s tundra, as it was for the amazing way the Giants defense was able to deface the prettiest offense in the NFL. 3-7-3-7. Those are the points the Packers scored by quarter against the Giants defense. It’s light years away from the 35 points per game the Pack averaged in the regular season.
One point defense
The Saints’ 24th-ranked defense hosted the Lions’ 23rd-ranked defense and the result was what could be expected: oodles of aerial acrobatics, Saints 45-28. Brees and Stafford threw the ball 86 times, 43 each. Obviously, the Saints offense is their defense. This game didn’t prove so much that it was a quarterback-driven league as it did that this is a quarterback-passing league.
One point offense
The Saints’ number one offense against the 49ers’ number four defense was mythically satisfying and the tale of a team’s coming of age. Sixty-eight points total were scored so it would seem that defense lost this game. However, the 49ers defense did just enough to keep the Saints flying trapeze act from sailing off into another Super Bowl sunset. Here, San Francisco’s special teams made their presence felt enough, to also be a deciding factor.
One point defense
One point special teams
When the 49ers’ fourth-ranked defense met the Giants’ eighth-ranked offense, fireworks ensued. However, most of those fireworks came from the defenses hitting the quarterbacks. However, it was special teams who made the difference in that game, or they might still be playing right now.
One point special teams
One point defense
One point offense - Eli Manning played really well
John Clayton, senior correspondent for ESPN, goes beyond what was happening on the field to suggest that some other higher powers, were at work to bring these Giants and Patriots together in Super Bowl XLVI,
You just get the feeling there is a touch of destiny with this team that is tied to owner Robert Kraft, whose wife passed away last year. Players and the entire organization dedicated the season to her. Longtime Patriot followers believe it was Myra Kraft who somehow made Billy Cundiff miss his 32-yard field goal in the fourth quarter and helped Moore strip a potential game-winning touchdown pass from Evans.
One point other elements
If you look back at the past several Super Bowl matches you’ll find more games go to the offense than the defense. Last year’s Packers over the Steelers was all about the Aaron Rogers offense. Likewise with the Brees-y Saints’ victory over the Colts two years ago. The year before that the Steelers’ final drive over the Cardinals was probably more of a victory for the offense than the defense. You’d likely have to go back four years to Super Bowl XLII to find a convincing victory owed to a Giants defense over the nearly perfect Patriots.
Recently, WHB radio interviewed Michael Lombardi of NFL Network. Scott Pioli worked for Lombardi with the Cleveland Browns and he has first-hand knowledge about the way Scott Pioli works. Lombardi was asked about his opinion of Pioli picking up a piece of paper and using it for an example. Lombardi said,
When you worry more about paper in the hallway, than who your right tackle is, then it has to bother you. So, to me, as a leader, pick the paper up, then every body else will pick the paper up. That’s the example you have to show.
Lombardi went on to discuss the “culture” being created in the Kansas City Chiefs organization.
I don’t think you can lead by intimidation… You have to create a culture where everybody is pulling in the same direction. Bill Walsh used to tell me all the time, the ugliest war to fight is a civil war because you don’t want to fight within your own team. You don’t want to fight within your own organization… I know that’s not what they do in New England. I’m around Belichick a lot and he leads by example because he’s working as hard as he possibly can to help the team win… Bill is worried about his left tackle, not paper in the hallway. Bill is trying to figure out a way to win games… There’s not a fear culture there.
One point leadership
The Chiefs need to work as hard as they possibly can. As an organization. From the parking lot attendants to the owner. Defense doesn’t win championships. Not by itself. It’s an absurd notion when you think about it. Neither does a great offense win championships. It’s sweat, inspiration and dedication and not by just a few but, by everyone. From top to bottom.
I understand Clark Hunt is a bit shy when it comes to being a public figure. I’d like to see him challenge himself in that arena. Take a chance. Inspire his troops.
Scott Pioli is often seen as rigid and private. He can step out of his box to do more, be more and trust his underlings. Todd Haley made the mistake of not delegating and trusting. Scott Pioli can learn from that.
Romeo Crennel is a solid coach, one of the “good guys” who inspires his players. They are loyal to him. He gives the Chiefs a great chance at future success. Everyone can feed off of his positive influence.
A richly gifted squad of young Chiefs players are doing their part. We focus on them almost exclusively throughout the year. I followed their tweets last offseason and they made me proud to be a Chiefs fan.
Everyone will be needed in this drive to a championship. The fans at Arrowhead remain the best 12th man in the NFL. You’ll not find a more faithful sort or collection of willing believers.
“We” can do it. We can win a championship. But it’ll take everybody.
One point to the village