Defense Wins Championships, Except When It Doesn't

By Joe Beale on February 12, 2014 at 1:30p
The conquering hero.
108 Comments

The story of Ohio State's last National Championship team in football is a familiar one, filled with heroics and drama. The 2002 OSU team flirted with disaster on many occasions but survived them all and bested the team that many thought might rank among the best of all time, the Miami Hurricanes.

Unfortunately, the stretch run of that season helped to cement in the minds of OSU fans a notion that had become popular in NFL circles during the early 90s: Defense Wins Championships. The defensive dominance displayed by Jim Tressel's second Ohio State team carried them through a rough November and right into the BCS Championship game. Their dramatic triumph over "the U" (in what was an intense defensive struggle) made sure they would never be forgotten.

Since that season, I have heard the mantra repeated many times, but never with more intensity than after Seattle's recent Super Bowl victory over Denver. The hype leading up to the game was focused on the fact that Denver was the #1 offense and Seattle was the #1 defense, and that we would find out once and for all which factor was more important to winning the highest prize in the game of football.

In the nfl

So there I was at work, on the Monday after Denver's epic meltdown, listening to a pair of guys in the next pod (don't ask) discussing the game and of course throwing out that familiar cliché. So I pointed out to them that this was a myth, and they incredulously confronted me with phrases like "Didn't you see the game yesterday?" and "The team with the best defense always wins."

I replied "Who had the best defense in the NFL last year (in 2012)?" Neither of them had an answer, and so after a moment I answered "Pittsburgh; and not only did they not win the Super Bowl, they didn't even make the playoffs."

The Steelers were indeed the best defensive team in 2012 in terms of yards given up, easily holding off Denver's 2nd ranked defense (!) by some 15 yards per game. Denver also did not make the Super Bowl, although they did make the playoffs, losing at home to Baltimore in the AFC semi-final round. Seattle had the best scoring defense in 2012, and they also did not make the Super Bowl, but they can be forgiven because the NFC's best defensive team in terms of yards, the San Francisco 49ers actually did make it.

San Francisco finished 3rd in the NFL in total defense in 2012. Their AFC opponent, the Baltimore Ravens, finished a distant 17th. That's an easy call; Niners in a walk! Apparently, it's not that simple. In the NFL, the championship is typically won by the best team, whether that team is better at offense or defense or neither (like Baltimore, who was 16th in total offense). All elements of your team need to be operating at a high level when you hit the playoffs or you will go home early.

Given all this, it is surprising to me that this myth endures when it comes to the NFL. I had this same debate several years ago with a friend who was a Vikings fan. His evidence was the 1998 Minnesota team, whose offense roared through the regular season on the strength of a rejuvenated Randall Cunningham and the young wheels of Randy Moss. That Vikings team hit a wall in the playoffs in the form of the Atlanta Falcons, a defensive-minded team that stifled Minny's high-powered offense on their way to the Super Bowl. Surely this proved the point, he said.

I replied that the only reason the Vikings lost was because of a missed chip-shot field goal by a kicker who hadn't missed any field goals the entire season. I added that those same Falcons were rolled in the Super Bowl by the offensive-minded Denver Broncos, who averaged over seven yards per play against Atlanta's vaunted defense. My analysis was the Denver had balance between their running game (led by 2000-yard rusher Terrell Davis) and their passing game (Elway, duh), which made it difficult for Atlanta to defend them.

To be honest, I wish the old myth had held sway in the AFC this season, because I'm a Bengals fan. Cincinnati had the 3rd best total defense in the NFL this season, behind only Seattle and Carolina. They should have sailed to the Super Bowl! Well, we all know they didn't; they couldn't even get past San Diego (23rd best defense) at home. 

in college football

But now you will say "It still holds true in the college game, and the 2002 Buckeyes are a prime example." My reply is that was a great team, led by a coach who had experience in championship games, and that they excelled in all phases of the game: offense, defense, and special teams. To be sure, that was a special defensive unit. But I truly believe the 2002 offense has not been given its due. 

Because of late-season offensive struggles against teams like Penn State, Purdue, and Illinois, fans got the idea that Ohio State was deficient on offense overall that season. What they forget is how the offense rolled during the early part of the season. In total, this Buckeye team scored over 50 points twice, scored in the 40s on two other occasions, and in the 30s on two others (with an asterisk, because that Miami game went into double-overtime).

In their first three games, the 2002 Buckeyes scored a total of 121 points. Neither the 2005 or 2006 Buckeyes, generally thought to be the best offensive teams of the non-vacated Tressel era, scored over 100 points in their first three. Only once during that two-year span did OSU score 50 points or more, while the 2002 team did it twice. Overall the 2002 team averaged 29.3 points per game; not earth-shattering numbers but not exactly feeble either. 

The biggest factor that held back the OSU offense in 2002 was the injury problems of star running back Maurice Clarett. After an epic 230-yard rushing performance against Washington State, Clarett had knee surgery and had to sit out the next game against Cincinnati. The Buckeye offense struggled without Clarett on the sloppy pre-turfgrass field at Paul Brown Stadium (it had more divots than the fairways at Airport Golf Course), but still put up 23 points. As it turned out, UC was not a terrible team, and they actually played in a bowl game that season.

Clarett eventually returned but was in and out of the line-up and never at full strength until the Michigan game. His absence was keenly felt, as backups Lydell Ross and Maurice Hall never quite measured up to their lofty high-school accolades. Still, even without Clarett they laid 34 points on Minnesota in a game mostly forgotten after the struggles at Purdue and Illinois.

This leads to another overlooked factor: the schedule. The Big Ten was a strong league in 2002, and they proved it by going 5-2 in bowl games, led by OSU's victory over Miami. Two of Ohio State's other non-conference foes, Texas Tech and Washington State, won nine and ten games respectively, with WSU finishing in the top ten. 

And then there's Miami. While it is true that the OSU offense only scored 17 against them, this is actually not bad considering the talent they faced. The Hurricane defense featured future NFL stars Sean Taylor, Jonathan Vilma, D.J. Williams, and Vince Wilfork, all of whom were drafted in the first round of the 2004 NFL draft.

That's enough, you say; one season does not prove the point but what about all those championships won by SEC teams? Did not all of those teams have dominant defenses? Well, some did but others not so much.

The best argument for keeping the myth alive in the college game is the back-to-back championships won by Alabama in 2011 and 2012. While it is true that Nicky Satan's troops were dominant on defense in those seasons (especially in 2011), their offense might be a bit overlooked. In 2012 alone, the Tide scored over 40 points eight times in 12 games, including one 52-point outburst (Sayonara, John L. Smith) and two 49-pointers. 

The 2011 Tide offense was also potent, scoring over 40 points five times and hitting 37 or better on three other occasions. They were stifled by LSU's dominant defense in the regular season, but they rebounded in the BCS Championship game to score 21 against the Tigers. Still, you could say great defense is what defined Alabama, but the argument is hard to apply when considering the teams that won it all in 2006, 2008, 2010, or 2013.

Yes, let's talk about the most recent season. I notice there were no pundits spouting the old cliché after FSU defeated Auburn 34-31 in the final BCS Championship game. Auburn could easily have won the game, which would have been quite a blow to the defenders of the myth considering that Gus Malzahn's team wasn't exactly winning with defense against Alabama or Missouri.


Where does this all leave us? I'm sure there is some detailed analysis that someone can do to find out what makes some teams victorious while other seemingly championship-worthy teams fall flat. That would take more work than simply shooting down one overworked myth. As it turns out, it's already been done anyway. So why go through the exercise again?

After the numerous defensive lapses in OSU's last three games this season, it became obvious that the lack of a great defense — heck, I'd take an adequate defense — is what kept the team from championship glory. It is tempting to resurrect the old myth in order to salve the wounds inflicted by MSU and Clemson.

Would I like to have a dominant defense every season? Certainly. I would also like to score 50 points every game. Failures on either side of the ball are frustrating (remember the 2009 USC game?).

Let's just remember that soothing our frustration is no substitute for good analysis. There are enough clichés already in the sports world, and some of them are even amusing. But I think it's time we put this one to rest for good. Give it a decent burial, but make sure it stays buried.

108 Comments

Comments

Nashville Buckeye's picture

You can always contort stats to your advantage.

Here's my stat - look at the Oregon's, the Texas Tech's, the Baylor's of the world.  How many NC's have they won?  Don't worry I'll wait...the answer is ZERO in the last 100 years or so.  The reason?  NO DEFENSE

I love the fact that we put up 40 points a game this past season.  hell, I would love to put up 40 points a game every season.  But I would MUCH rather hold my opponents between 17-21 points.

Defense DOES win championships. 

 

 

+21 HS
Joe Beale's picture

Florida State exceeded all of the teams you named in yards per play (they were #1 in the nation) and trailed only Baylor in points per game (#2). But forget about doing research, I'll just rely on your opinion next time and that will settle the question! ;)

BuckeyeLaw's picture

Joe, Florida State also had a pretty nasty defense last year, only giving up over 14 points three times - not to mention one of those was to Auburn in the NCG. Although FSU had one of the most efficient offenses we have seen in years, they also had one hell of a defense, so I think Nashville's point is well taken.

OSU 2011 - Toledo Law 2014

+8 HS
Joe Beale's picture

This is very often the case with championship teams: they are solid in every phase of the game. Is that not the point I was making?

If you say their defense won the championship, I can easily come back and say their defense gave up that last TD that put them behind with less than 2 minutes remaining and then the offense went and won the game by scoring with only 13 seconds left.

Overall, they gave up 449 yards to Auburn. Hard to see how their defense won the game for them.

IGotAWoody's picture

Great defense doesn't always win you the championship, but it often is what GETS you there. When you get there, according to your analysis, you are almost certain to be playing a team that is "solid in every phase of the game". Which means you're likely playing someone with an equally good offense.

 - License to kill gophers (wolverines, badgers, etc) by the government of the United Nations

AndyVance's picture

Wow, that might be the most dismissive comment I've ever read from an 11W staffer. Ouch.

That said, great article - I think busting this myth is a bitter pill to swallow for many of us after watching Michigan State and the Seahawks shatter what were clearly superior teams offensively (or at least so we thought). Taking down Braxton Miller and Peyton Manning is a tall order, and both teams made it look pretty damn easy.

But I think your bigger point, or at least the one I took home and agree with, is that a great defense alone is not enough. An "adequate" defense, as you put it, coupled with a great offense, will win titles. Or conversely, an adequate offense coupled with an exceptional defense (MSU, Seahawks) wins championships.

+8 HS
Joe Beale's picture

eh, that's why I put the smiley there so that it wouldn't feel too harsh. Just trying to have a little fun.

FitzBuck's picture

A Smiley does make everything ok.  

Fitzbuck | Toledo - Ohio's right armpit | "A troll by any other name is still a troll".

+2 HS
1MechEng's picture

Perhaps he should have used the sarcasm font instead?!

+2 HS
AndyVance's picture

Now I'm embarrassed: I totally missed the smiley face. Like a Southern Belle using the phrase "bless your heart," it does indeed make everything better.

My bad, Joe.

+1 HS
Joe Beale's picture

Haha...sort of like "That Brady Hoke sure is a moron, bless his heart!"

Phillips.449's picture

Or use "no offense"

"No offense, but you are an a$$hole"

+1 HS
45has2's picture

Do as they say, not as they do.

"I don't like nice people. I like tough, honest people." -W.W. Hayes

bafiesta's picture

All in good spirit.  You could also accurately say the original post by Nashville dismissed all the research done in the article. 

-1 HS
klfeck's picture

Sorry joe but obviously you totally misunderstood the "myth". No one said a great defense without an adequate offense wins championships. I will take a great defense along with an adequate offense against your Ducks any day and win at least 8 out of ten games.

Kevin
OH!!!!!
Proud parent of a Senior at The Ohio State University

+1 HS
Joe Beale's picture

How did the Ducks (I assume you mean Oregon) become "mine"? I never mentioned them in the article. The example I've been using in the comments is Florida State, and I'll take them against any defense-dominated team you want to throw at them. The myth says nothing about offense, implying ambivalence about how good they need to be. Not only that, the '99 Ravens are frequently mentioned. No, the myth says "Defense Wins Championshps", with no qualifications. And what I'm saying is sometimes it doesn't. In fact, according to statistics, offense wins just as often.

d5k's picture

Simple probability will tell you the championship is not typically won by the best team in a single elimination format.  Even best of 7 does not assure that the best team (favorite) will win the majority of the time.  It is confirmation bias to say otherwise (especially when you say Baltimore was the "best team" in 2012).

+3 HS
Joe Beale's picture

The point of emphasizing the word "team" was that the championship teams are typically solid in all phases of the game, as opposed to saying they must be especially proficient in one phase but you're indifferent to the others (as the myth would imply).

d5k's picture

I was just going further and saying the best team doesn't win most of the time anyway.  Single elimination tournaments are worse than something like the BCS formula or computer models in producing the "#1 team".  All you really do with those tournaments is produce a tournament winner, not prove much about who is the best team.

ETA: I completely agree that "defense wins championships" is flawed, but the hindsight bias we frequently use analyzing teams that won championships as having any definitive qualities is also flawed.  If you played the Super Bowl 100 times you could say something definitive about the combined results in terms of schematic advantages but like you said before that still wouldn't say "defense/offense wins championships".

+3 HS
Joe Beale's picture

True enough, but I don't think we'll ever see double-elimination in football because of the injury concerns. Good point though.

d5k's picture

I'm not advocating for anything, I love the idea of a single elimination playoff.  I just am anti-revisionist history.  Extreme example which may also support your point: The guy who wins the World Series of Poker may have some redeeming poker playing qualities but people who follow poker don't automatically start saying "see, tight aggressive play wins championships".  Actually maybe the people who watch on ESPN and think the announcers know anything might say stuff like that.

IBLEEDSCARLETANDGRAY's picture

I've always thought that it's all a matter of matchups. A team can have the No. 1 defense and go up against a team with a No. 5 or No. 10 offense and lose because that defense does not match up well. Same can be said of a No. 1 ranked offense up against a lower ranked D. It's always convenient to use the blanket term "the best defense always wins." But in reality, it's whoever is playing the best at the time and who takes advantage of their matchups the best.

"Sherman ran an option play right through the south" - Greatest Civil War analogy EVER.

+2 HS
jenks's picture

Apparently, it's not that simple. In the NFL, the championship is typically won by the best team, whether that team is better at offense or defense or neither (like Baltimore, who was 16th in total offense). All elements of your team need to be operating at a high level when you hit the playoffs or you will go home early.

I think his point is that you need both, not one or the other.

RedStorm45's picture

Because of late-season offensive struggles against teams like Penn State, Purdue, and Illinois

And the 14 points against Michigan.  So essentially half the conference slate and 1/3 of the entire season.

 

Quite a few of the games mentioned are "could have happened this way."  But it didn't.  So who cares.  I could look up any number of games, pick out one or two plays that could have gone differently, and it would support X argument.  Dealing with hypotheticals when we all saw what actually happened is kind of a weak argument, imo.

Joe Beale's picture

Agreed. So who's dealing in hypotheticals?

OSUpawn's picture

Who would win a 1 on 1 Michael Jordan or the best defensive player?  Jordon! Now he was also a good defender.  So I believe its both you need some offense some defense and you need to be a closer. Got to be able to handle the pressure.
 

I believe the SEC players put their pants on one leg at a time like we do.

+1 HS
BuckeyeNation_330's picture

This is not an old adage defense outside of special teams is the important part of the game. You can win plenty of games without scoring an offensive touchdown, but you won't win many games giving up touchdowns and not winning the field position battle.

"Bleed Scarlet, Die Gray"

chitown buckeye's picture

Tressel, that you?

"I'm having a heart attack!"

+3 HS
BuckeyeNation_330's picture

Hahaha, I'm very defensive minded I coach midget football as a Defensive Coordinator, The best offense is a shutdown defense.

"Bleed Scarlet, Die Gray"

Nutinpa's picture

That was an interesting read, Joe, so thanks.

While the 2013 Buckeyes were indeed betrayed by a pitiful Defense.....I don't think we should overlook a few facts that also implicate the Offense, that too, doomed the Bucks vs. Sparty and Clemson. In both games combined, the Buckeyes only scored 6 points in the 4th quarter.  That just won't get it done, boys and girls.  So while it is accurate to say that this year's D was all that stood in the way of OSU playing FSU for the Natty.....I also contend that the O could have salted away both games -- and especially, Sparty. 

Put it this way and I will cut through the crap:  I haven't heard anyone malign FSU's Defense for giving up 31 points to Auburn.  What we have heard, repeatedly, is how Famous Jameis willed his team to victory and marched down the field. Quite honestly, until Braxton Miller (and future QBs) can do the same thing when the chips are down, (like they did vs. Michigan this year) this OSU team will not win another National Championship. While AJ McCarron was criticized for being a "system QB", he still was productive and could put Bama on his back. Likewise for Vince Young, Jameis Winston, Tim Tebow, and Cam Newton.  As next year's D struggles early to find itself, the Offense will need to carry the way again...and yes, even against teams like Navy and VA Tech that will be fully confident and prepared to play us.

+2 HS
AndyVance's picture

Add to that the fact that most of us still feel that Ohio State would have won both games it lost had the coaches stayed content with feeding El Guapo another 25 times, as Coach Tressel might have done, and bullrushed to victory instead of trying to get cute when the chips were down.

+4 HS
Nutinpa's picture

Completely agree, Andy.

+2 HS
Joe Beale's picture

Good analysis all around. The point about Jameis Winston and the other QBs named is fascinating to me but also frustrating. What is it that some guys have that enables them to do that? Just saying "intangibles" doesn't seem to be adequate but I can't think of anything better.

Also agree 100% about El Guapo.

d5k's picture

"putting a team on his back" is overly simplified analysis akin to "defense wins championships" imo.  Lots of variables go into a single play in football but if you watched that FSU-Auburn game and came away thinking FSU is definitively better than Auburn than I don't know what to say.  That game was like a buzzer beater in basketball in terms of margin between the teams.  It only provided evidence that they were evenly matched and balanced teams.

+1 HS
Furious George 27's picture

I do agree, but lets keep in mind that MSU was not a team that we should have been trading scores with and scoring 35 should be more than enough to beat a good team if we had a decent defense. Yes the offense missed opportunities, but the defense also dug them into early holes that they overcame.

Yeah, well…that’s just like, your opinion, man.

+1 HS
Joe Beale's picture

Not to mention fumbling a punt to set up a TD. Special teams play matters too!

chitown buckeye's picture

I would counter the MSU game by saying that when playing a "great" defense like Sparty we knew it was going to be difficult to put up points with even a great offense. When a great offense meets a great defense its a stale-mate in some ways.  MSU's  offense was of zero concern to a competent defense. However we couldn't get off the field on third down for much of the game. If we had had an average defensit would have given our offense more opportunities to "crack the code" of Sparty's defense.

To me it goes hand in hand, you have to be great on one side of the ball and at minimal average on the other side to have it work. It doesn't matter which side of the ball is which. However you cant win championships with one side of the ball putting up a season of negative records.

"I'm having a heart attack!"

Ethos's picture

that statement is still used because vegas has a lot of money, and they bank on suckers.

"What do you need water for, Sunshine?!" - Coach Coombs, if you don't love this man, you have no soul.

Ashtabula's picture

In order to win a championship at an elite level, you need both a good defense and a good offense.  But, if I had to choose one or the other, I would choose defense as I think it will take you farther.  I'm just too lazy to find any data to support my claim.

Good article.

+1 HS
mrspray's picture

I know it's baseball, but I like when Brandon Phillips from the Cincinnati Reds says "Offense sells tickets and defense wins championships…"

+1 HS
You can't spell chump without UM's picture

You need both offense and defense to win championships, I think the term" Defense wins Championships" is just meant to be when a great offense meets a great defense (i.e. Seattle vs. Denver & Tampa Bay vs. Oakland in SB37). You can hold teams to 7 points a game, but if you can't score at least 8 then all that defense won't matter. And you can score 50 points a game, but if you allow 51 then all that offense won't matter either. 

Brady Hoke ate my comment

Borrowed Time's picture

I think the whole point is whenever you have an underperforming unit, either offense or defense, it will be exposed once you play a strong enough team to take advantage of your deficiencies. 

+1 HS
BroJim's picture

Of course the best team wins the championship but I think you’re missing the point.

The point is it’s harder to win with a team that has no defense and a high-powered offense (This year’s Buckeyes). Bottom line, it’s better to have a strong defense than a strong offense.

I season my simple food with hunger

+2 HS
Joe Beale's picture

In that case, Alabama beats Auburn every time. But not this year.  Defense wins championships, except when it doesn't. Or maybe I should say "except when that championship is the SEC championship", amirite?

IGotAWoody's picture

This past year, Bama's D struggled against specific type offenses (Auburn, TA&M, OK), so they may have been highly ranked stats-wise, but those stats were padded by limiting some terrible teams. Against the 3 best (or highest ranked) on their schedule, they gave up 28, 42 and 31.

 - License to kill gophers (wolverines, badgers, etc) by the government of the United Nations

Joe Beale's picture

In scoring D, Alabama was 4th in the nation; Auburn 48th. They gave up an average of 11 points per game more than the Tide did.

IGotAWoody's picture

Sorry, I edited my comment to be more specific. Statistically speaking, Bama's D performed better than Auburn's. But, Bama was bad against the 3 best teams they faced.

 - License to kill gophers (wolverines, badgers, etc) by the government of the United Nations

Joe Beale's picture

And against the 5 best teams they faced, Auburn gave up 34 (FSU), 42 (Missouri), 28 (Alabama), 41 (A&M), and 35 (LSU). The "specific-type" offenses of A&M and Missouri pretty much riddled everyone, but Bama, FSU, and LSU are fairly straightforward attacks.

IGotAWoody's picture

I'm not even sure at this point what argument you're trying to make on this particular thread. Auburn made it to the MNC game with smoke and mirrors, they weren't the best offense, nor were they a gifted defense. They really should've lost to GA, or at least made GA have to do something special to score the game winner instead of that fluke tipped pass. They also could've/should've lost several other games, and should've had to battle Bama in overtime to settle that one.

But, ultimately, tho it was not a defensive game, FSU won the national championship, and got there and did so because they had a stout defense and a very capable offense. I would say FSU is one of the better balanced champs we've had in the BCS era.

 - License to kill gophers (wolverines, badgers, etc) by the government of the United Nations

Furious George 27's picture

In Auburn's case, special teams wins championships....

Yeah, well…that’s just like, your opinion, man.

+1 HS
BroJim's picture

Really Joe, Auburn won on a freak play.

 You’re right it does take a team to win, but you’re wrong if you think a good offense will beat a good defense. The statement “defense wins championships” is a generalization. When I hear that I interpret it to mean a good defense will beat a good offense, and that is true. Of course you can point to stats that prove both sides to be wrong or right . . . yeah-yeah.

Let’s look to the ultimate game of strategy, Chess, to go outside of the box (Like MJ on them wheaties).  The main reason people lose chess matches is because they don’t develop their defense. Why do you think there are so many defensive strategies in chess (Benoni, French, Sicilian. . .) it’s because defense is more important that capturing pieces (offense). Without defense you can’t win, thus giving meaning to “defense wins championships”

I season my simple food with hunger

+1 HS
JohnnyKozmo's picture

Correction-2 Freak Plays (See:Georgia Game)

BroJim's picture

Thanks, but it was in reference to the Bama game.

Go Bucks!

I season my simple food with hunger

rkylet83's picture

What wins championships is balance and depth.  If you have a glaring weakness, chances are you aren't a championship team.   

+2 HS
mb5599's picture

I don't think that you have to have the top defense in order to win a championship, but you have to have a top 10 defense in order to put yourself in a legitimate position to compete for a championship.  You point to the fact that Pittsburgh had the top ranked defense this year in the NFL, but did you see that offense most of the season? They sucked, but their defense put them in position to win some games (even though they didnt).  I also remember the stat they kept repeating over and over this year leading up to the super bowl where the team with the best defense won the majority of the time.  Remember a few years ago when the Ravens won the Super Bowl with Trent freaking Dilfer at QB.  Since they had a top notch defense all Dilfer had to do was not lose the game.  Tressell even utilized this philosophy in his own game tactics.  He emphasized defense, special teams, and ball control to play the field positon game.  He didnt have any high scoring offensive machines.  He knew eventually his defense or special teams would flip the field and give his offense a short field to work with.  Look at Oregon, Texas A&M, Baylor, Louisville, etc. this year.  Plenty of offense but mediocre defense.  You can win with a mediocre offense and a top 10 defense, but you can't win with a mediocre defense and a strong offense. I think Michigan State is perfect example of this.  They did not exactly light it up on offense, but their defense was so stout it allowed them to win games they might have otherwise lost.  Give me a stout defense over a stout offense all day long and I will win most of the time.

Big B

Joe Beale's picture

...you can't win with a mediocre defense and a strong offense.

Auburn won a lot of games this season, and they were 13 seconds away from winning it all!

Deadly Nuts's picture

But they didn't, because their defense screwed it up.

LEBRON

+1 HS
Joe Beale's picture

Because their defense couldn't hang with FSU's elite offense. The point is that the commentor said you "can't" win with a mediocre defense, and Auburn most definitely could.

OhioKris's picture

No they couldn't.

When it mattered most their mediocre defense failed, they couldn't stop FSU. 

If they had a better/elite defense. They'd be champs. 

all they had to do was stop them on the final drive.

A field goal would not have saved FSU, the had to score a TD.  

Defense Wins Championships. 

+1 HS
jbcuky's picture

Sounds like FSU's offense won that championship.

mb5599's picture

they still lost, but they also played respectable against FSU's "juggernaut offense".  CNNSI did a decent write up on their defense before the BCS NCG:

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/college-football/news/20140104/auburn-t...

teams moved the ball on them, but they were pretty stout stopping them from turning those drives into points.  taking into account how many times teams actually scored on them, they actually ranked 13th in the country.  also, lets not forget that they were playing those "vaunted SEC offenses" week in and week out.

Big B

jbcuky's picture

"[Y]ou have to have a top 10 defense in order to put yourself in a legitimate position to compete for a championship." -- 3 of the last 5 Super Bowl winners did not have a top 10 defense.

"You point to the fact that Pittsburgh had the top ranked defense this year in the NFL, but did you see that offense most of the season?" -- That's exactly the author's point.

"Look at Oregon, Texas A&M, Baylor, Louisville, etc. this year. Plenty of offense but mediocre defense." -- What gives you the impression Louisville was all offense this year? They were 3rd in PPG and 2nd in YPG.

+1 HS
mb5599's picture

1.  according to the NFL, 9 out of the last 10 super bowl winners did have a top 10 defense                                                                   http://www.nfl.com/superbowl/story?id=09000d5d80e2f758&template=with-video-with-comments&confirm=true

2.  my point was that Pittsburgh's defense was the only reason that they actually had a shot at a wildcard this year.  without that top ranked defense they would have lost at least 2 or 3 more games.

3.  How many times did anyone talk about Louisvilles defense this year and who did they play?

Big B

+2 HS
jbcuky's picture

1. First, your article is dated. Second, it's 9 of those 12 teams. Third, several of those teams also had a top 10 offense. Fourth, see below re Baltimore, NYG, and the Saints. 3 of the last 5 did not have top 10 defenses.

2. What if they had a lower ranked defense and a better offense?

3. I don't recall anyone talking about their offense either. The exception is Teddy Bridgewater and that's because he's projected to be a high draft pick, not because the offense was rolling like Oregon, et al. And their offense played those same teams their defense played yet their offense was 30 in PPG and 35 in YPG.

IGotAWoody's picture

I haven't done the research, but I would bet that, in MNC games and Super Bowls, the team with the definitively better D wins the majority of the time. And, I would guess that it's by a wide margin. Maybe I'll sit down and analyze the past 10 yrs for both and see how that sample bears this theory out.

 - License to kill gophers (wolverines, badgers, etc) by the government of the United Nations

Joe Beale's picture

No need to do the research, because Freakonomics has already done it for you (at least in terms of the NFL). I linked to this above but here it is again just in case you missed it.

http://freakonomics.com/2012/02/03/football-freakonomics-tackling-the-ol...

IGotAWoody's picture

I did the research. The freakonomics analysis has MANY flaws. Like I said, here's the last 10 Super Bowls:

2013 - Seattle, top rated defense over Broncos, top rated offense, but the 22nd ranked D

2012 - Ravens, 12th ranked defense over 49ers, 2nd ranked D

2011 - Giants, 25th ranked defense over Patriots, 15th ranked D

2010 - Saints, 7th ranked defense over Colts, 23rd ranked D

2009 - Steelers, 12th ranked defense over Cardinals, 14th ranked D

2008 - Giants, 5th ranked defense over Patriots, 8th ranked D

2007 - Colts, top ranked defense over Bears, 16th ranked D

2006 - Steelers, 11th ranked defense over Seahawks, 19th ranked D

2005 - Patriots, 17th ranked defense over Eagles, 27th ranked D

2004 - Patriots, 2nd ranked defense over Panthers, 15th ranked D

2003 - Buccaneers, 4th ranked defense over Raiders, 25th ranked D

Based on my original premise, the team with the decidedly better defense won 7 out of the past 9 super bowls (I left out the 2 results where the defenses were ranked pretty closely).

 - License to kill gophers (wolverines, badgers, etc) by the government of the United Nations

45has2's picture

Except for the statistic that eleven out of the last twelve highest scoring regular season NFL teams have lost in the post season. And 4 out of 5 of the last Super Bowls where the #1 defense met the #1 offense and won, I agree with your analysis.

http://blogs.mercurynews.com/kawakami/2014/02/02/how-the-all-time-best-o...

"I don't like nice people. I like tough, honest people." -W.W. Hayes

+3 HS
Joe Beale's picture

See the Freakonomics article linked above for some links to a more thorough analysis, but this quote should suffice to satisfy you:

Twenty-seven Super Bowls have pitted a top 5 offense against a top 5 defense. The best offensive team won 13, and the best defensive team won 14. 

jbcuky's picture

You understand the argument isn't that "offense wins championships", right? It's that defense doesn't always win. If so, why did Baltimore win last year (17th in YPG and 12th in PPG)? Or the Giants the year before (27th YPG, 25th PPG)? Or the Saints in 2010 (25th YPG, 20th PPG)?

So sometimes defense wins, sometimes it doesn't.

 

 

Tom57's picture

This is an excellent article b/c it forces people to get past the headline in the narrative.

The truth is that a one dimensional team will generally not win a championship. Either they won't make it that far or they will lose the big game. That will be true if the single dimension is offense or defense.

Offense sells tickets is truth. The average fan and the media LOVE offense.

That is why the narrative takes on the tone it does, b/c it seems like more of a "story" when a team with a good/but not outstanding offense but a truly excellent D wins a big game.

The other truth is that the most physical team wins most football games and for sure all big games, and a team with a great defense will be physical so they are on the right track.

While we're at it.... "Establish the run on offense and Stop the run to make a team one dimensional and smother the pass on defense"..... sounds like Dantonio, right? Sparty was outrushed by OSU and Stanford by a wide margin and gave up over 150 rushing yards but had nearly 2x the passing yards in both games.....

+2 HS
Nutinpa's picture

Now....out of the other side of my mouth....I / we ....can't forget who the QBs were when OSU won it's NCs in the "modern era".  I define the modern era as....."since I have been alive".....lol:

1968:  Rex Kern; He'd be a DB on a modern Buckeye football team; that Super Soph Defense?  Tough as nails; Stillwagon, Tatum, et al stopped Leroy Keyes at Purdue; OJ Simpson of USC, especially in the 2nd half;  we haven't seen the likes of that team since;  different era, I realize

2002: Craig Krenzel:  Another QB that would not strike fear in today's DCs; But that D?  As well coached and effective as any in recent OSU history; They slowed down a Miami team that was a TD making machine.

So....what were we discussing again?????

 

 

+1 HS
blueinsconsin's picture

Defense first teams usually give you the advantage over the course of the season.  Oregon, Texas Tech, Baylors of the world are very fun to watch, but when their offense stumbles 2-3 times per season, they don't have any change in those 2-3 games.  I'll take a team like Bama, Stanford, 2013/14 Michigan State any day over Oregon.  Sometimes you have Florida where they are so awful nothing helps, but the point is I'm taking defense.  Also, I could be wrong on this stat since I'm just pulling it up from memory, but wasn't Florida State #1 in total defense in 2012?  

Not here to troll...Go Blue

+1 HS
Joe Beale's picture

Statistically speaking, the difference between FSU's defense and Alabama's was trivial. Auburn gashed both of them, so I don't know what difference it makes. FSU won with their offense by moving down the field for a touchdown with only 1:16 to work with. 

BroJim's picture

Really Joe, Auburn won on a freak play.

 You’re right it does take a team to win, but you’re wrong if you think a good offense will beat a good defense. The statement “defense wins championships” is a generalization. When I hear that I interpret it to mean a good defense will beat a good offense, and that is true. Of course you can point to stats that prove both sides to be wrong or right . . . yeah-yeah.

Let’s look to the ultimate game of strategy, Chess, to go outside of the box (Like MJ on them wheaties).  The main reason people lose chess matches is because they don’t develop their defense. Why do you think there are so many defensive strategies in chess (Benoni, French, Sicilian. . .) it’s because defense is more important that capturing pieces (offense). Without defense you can’t win, thus giving meaning to “defense wins championships”

I season my simple food with hunger

Joe Beale's picture

There was nothing freakish about them racking up 449 yards and 31 points on Florida State.

ShowThemOhiosHere's picture

When it comes to the "Defense wins championships" myth, all you have to do is look at OSU men's basketball right now.  Great defense, but that team isn't winning a championship this year unless they improve a shit ton on offense.  If the defense doesn't play well in a game, can you count on the offense to pick them up?  Look at OSU football this past season.  If the offense didn't play well, could you count on the defense to pick them up?  You have to be solid in all phases.  You can be particularly strong in one phase, but if you end up in a game where you're struggling in that certain phase, then the other phases need to be able to pick up the slack.  In 2002, the OSU defense typically did the job, but the offense was able to make plays when they needed to (that great defense would've meant dick if OSU lost 6-3 in West Lafayette, or didn't convert 4th and 14 in the first OT against Miami), and didn't often put the defense in bad positions with turnovers.  Having the best kicker and one of the best punters in the nation also helped a lot, too.

Watching Seattle, it looked to me like they were especially proficient in all phases of the game.  When you score 43 points, your defense doesn't have to be that amazing.  When you only give up 8 points, your offense doesn't have to be that amazing.  Special teams got in the act, too.  They won 43-8, but they'd still be the world champions if they won 9-8 or 43-42.  I guess it comes down to the team that has the best overall combination in all phases of the game, and can make the clutch plays and avoid the critical mistakes.

 

 

Class of 2010.

Seattle Linga's picture

All my friends here are Seahawk fans however my direct boss per say is a huge Broncos fan - the two weeks building up to the S-bowl it was just a battle of wills and hardly any work was done. Since 1987 my second favorite team has been the Hawks and they play with a team mentality.

They did have to have a stellar defense to hold Denver to only 8 points for the game. If they were just an average defense the score would have been a lot closer. Just my 2 cents!!!!!! 

bull1214's picture

ur confusing the meaning of the saying. it pertains to the MATCHUP, not the season stats. in other words, if 2 teams meet up and one has a decided advantage defensively while the other has the offensive advantage; bet on the defensive team.

 

Joe Beale's picture

Without the season stats, how do you know which team has the "decided advantage defensively"? I guess we just wait to see who wins and then just call them the better defensive team? That's what you call circular reasoning.

bull1214's picture

the season suggests who has the advantage, the matchup shows which advantage matters more. as in defense wins more often in the matchup

Joe Beale's picture

No, it does not. The numbers are about even. 

bull1214's picture

I don't doubt ur numbers and im not surprised by that. how about this thought tho?

a team can win a game with a horrible offense by simply scoring 3 points the entire game. however, it takes a great defensive effort to hold the other team to less than 3 points.

jbcuky's picture

how about this thought tho?

a team can win a game by scoring one more point than the opponent. so a team can win a game with a horrible defense by scoring a bunch on offense. and if the defense is horrible, it takes a great offensive effort to do so.

bull1214's picture

ive been waiting for someone to use my logic against me lol

ScarletNGrey01's picture

The best defense is a good offense ...

The will to win is not as important as the will to prepare to win. -- Woody Hayes

darbnurb's picture

This is true in Techmo Super Bowl (yeah, I am showing my age).  I always have the highest season average score, but not the top offense (yds per game).  My defense is off the charts because I intentionally run off the clock on offense and don't give the other team any time.

Are there any statistics on the type of offense teams run?  For example, it seems that quick striking (short amount of time to score) teams score a lot of points, but also give up a lot of points on defense.  I might take a pro-style team averaging 30 pts than a spread team averaging 40.  

Also, it is a generalization, not a hard rule.  There will always be outliers.   

 

WC Buckeye's picture

It's kind of like "good pitching always beats good hitting" in baseball. Absolutes in any sport generally don't hold water. "Defenses wins championships" probably is a more appropriate slogan for basketball than football.

The only thing that's new in the world is the history that we have forgotten.

Dillon G's picture

Number one rated offense San Francisco 55

Number one rated defense Denver 10

Chief B1G Dump's picture

Has anyone ever made the argument that defense, and only defense alone, wins championships?

 

There are obviously so many dynamics to winning a championship...but its really all about maximizing your opportunities, hiding/masking any weak links, match-ups, leadership, some lucky bounces, etc...I'm not sure who and/or how anyone would ever argue defense, and defense alone, wins championships.

 

Does an apple a day really keep the doctor away?  Or is it more about being healthy, overall...

 

You dont have to be #1 across the board in every facet but you have to be fairly solid and be an overall cohesive team that compliments each other and/or picks up the other units when they struggle.

 

 

+2 HS
harleymanjax's picture

An excellent defense can usually overcome an average offense, but if you have an excellent offense and an average defense you will not win a championship!

"Because I couldn't go for 3"

Joe Beale's picture

Unless you're the 1998 Broncos or the 1989 49ers (or dozens of others who have done it).

zachattack32's picture

It seemed to me that through most of the year in the NFL the Broncos had an adequate defense, and the best offense in the league. The opposite could be said for Seattle who had the best defense in the league, and an adequate offense. We all saw what happened in the Super Bowl, and see what happens to teams like Oregon and other offensive power houses every year. I don't care who you are, you have to have a solid defense to win a championship, but the same is not true as far as an offense goes. We saw this year what happens when a teams defense skates by; eventually they get exposed. In my opinion, a defense is what wins championships, and it shows when you look at past national champs NFL and College.

Joe Beale's picture

It shows in what way? Statistically, the ratio is about even between offense and defense. If you're not using statistics, then it's just an opinion. Duly noted.

FROMTHE18's picture

Spread offences generally rely on rhythm and momentum, a good defense stops both of those. I think any kind of offense can win you games, but if you're defense sucks, you lose. Look at OSU as a prime example. One play away from losing to Michigan even after scoring a bunch of points. Winning a game 3-0, is still winning a game. If your defense is garbage, the other team can control the tempo and time of the game. I think the defense has far more of an impact on how a team performs/outcome of the game than the offense. 

youngbuck32's picture

At first... I sometimes wonder if our spread/hurry up offense doesn't hurt our defense by maybe scoring too quickly... then I flashed back to the championship game where urbans Florida team scored 41 points and only gave up 14... I choose not to remember who Florida played...

Can't is the real "C" word!

CurtSzczepanski's picture

Obviously, I love the idea have having a well rounded team (like FSU had this year). But I think the reason the old saying exist is because its more common to see a team with an average offense and a great defense pull out a win late in the game, as compared to a team with a great offense and an average defense. I see your point that it takes a well rounded team, but I think that people put more stock into a team with a great defense, especially buckeye fans who watched all the success osu had in the tres era (or even the thad matta era). i know that this post is kind of repetitive, but I guess what I'm saying is if you can't have both, then I'd rather have a great defense despite potentially low-scoring games.

sbentz4's picture

A couple of points:

1) NCAA statistics are fundamentally flawed because of the huge variance in the quality of teams and differences in sos.  I think that only a NFL sample is appropriate.  Also, we need to look more in depth at the playoff statistics.  Although the Giants '07 and Colts '06 were bad in the regular season, they were surprisingly good in the playoffs.  Regular season stats do not necessarily reflect playoff performance.

2) Brian Burke points out flaws in using scoring offense and defense and opts to use efficiency.   While there are flaws in using scoring offense and scoring defense there are also flaws in using YPG/efficiency.  Turnovers are huge as Andy Dalton and Superbowl Peyton Manning should know.  Also, there are definitely bend but don't break defenses; getting turnovers and third down stops are crucial.

3) Analysis are very simplistic and don't fully explain what is happening.  I would like to see regression statistics and see how much predictability there is in any offensive or defensive statistic or a factor analysis.

I don't know the answer, but we need to think critically about the analyses being done in the freakonomics/Brian Burke article.  This is an online article, not a peer reviewed journal meaning it has not been subjected to scrutiny from other statisticians.  So the author(s) probably have an agenda and selectively report results or are not exhaustive in their studies (conjecture).  I am just saying what many others have said, that we need to take these analyses with a grain of salt and not as gospel.  I do like the conversation this post is creating.

+1 HS
zachattack32's picture

I see what you are saying. To touch on your last paragraph, I don't think people are simply scrutinizing, we are just getting involved in the topic. The majority just disagree with what the article is saying, but that is the whole point of having a response section. "Eleven Warriors" wants us to be engaged and involved so I don't think it is fair to make that assessment. 

sbentz4's picture

Sorry I meant that point in response to the Freakonomics/Brian Burke articles not 11W.  My point is the people that are performing statistical analyses for freakonomics/brian burke are just trying to get clicks not publish scientific research.  There is a fairly large gap in the rigor. 

+1 HS
Joe Beale's picture

It's always easy to say "the author has an agenda..." blah blah blah. Go ahead and point out the flaw in the analysis. I can tell you this: I had an agenda when I was writing it, and so do all of the people who are criticizing me. We can't both be wrong. If my point is wrong, tell me why. The real point of this article is to get people to think their way through issues rather than just mindlessly repeating clichés. If your answer to my analysis is to repeat another cliché, then obviously I'm failing in my quest.

zachattack32's picture

Ah that makes much more sense.

klfeck's picture

This from Andrew Sweat. Your hypothesis is hear by negated.....

 

How he would deal with the rise of Sparty:

I would go back to the way OSU played football. Sparty beat us by playing tough nosed Big ten football. controlling the ball and playing great defense.. Tressel ball.

Kevin
OH!!!!!
Proud parent of a Senior at The Ohio State University

+1 HS
Joe Beale's picture

How do you control the ball with only your defense? Sounds to me like you're going to need a little offense too. Hey, a well-rounded football team, what a concept!

bull1214's picture

bama has been one of the most well rounded teams for a few years now. mixing strong defense with a pounding run game and opportunistic pass plays. they only fell short this year when they tried to become more explosive in the pass game and got away from the run too often.

they actually played tressel ball to perfection. the only difference is they get credit for it and we had to defend why we played that way. perception is reality.

+1 HS
IGotAWoody's picture

I did the research. The freakonomics analysis has MANY flaws. Like I said, here's the last 10 Super Bowls (defensive rankings are by points allowed, which, for me, is the most important defensive stat):

2013 - Seattle, top rated defense over Broncos, top rated offense, but the 22nd ranked D

2012 - Ravens, 12th ranked defense over 49ers, 2nd ranked D

2011 - Giants, 25th ranked defense over Patriots, 15th ranked D

2010 - Saints, 7th ranked defense over Colts, 23rd ranked D

2009 - Steelers, 12th ranked defense over Cardinals, 14th ranked D

2008 - Giants, 5th ranked defense over Patriots, 8th ranked D

2007 - Colts, top ranked defense over Bears, 16th ranked D

2006 - Steelers, 11th ranked defense over Seahawks, 19th ranked D

2005 - Patriots, 17th ranked defense over Eagles, 27th ranked D

2004 - Patriots, 2nd ranked defense over Panthers, 15th ranked D

2003 - Buccaneers, 4th ranked defense over Raiders, 25th ranked D

Based on my original premise, the team with the decidedly better defense won 7 out of the past 9 super bowls (I left out the 2 results where the defenses were ranked pretty closely).

 - License to kill gophers (wolverines, badgers, etc) by the government of the United Nations