Does Defense Still Win Championships?

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

For the first 30 plus years that I've been watching football the common wisdom is that defense wins Lombardi trophies. Yet in this last decade of football we've seen the trend towards the passing game and high scoring offenses. Rule changes that favor the QB and wide receivers might have a little to do with it, maybe a lot. So is the game changed for ever? Does offense now win championships?

As I watched yesterday's two conference championships unfold I was struck by the fact that basically it was a leading offensive team (Falcons/Patriots) versus a leading defensive team (Ravens/49ers) in both games. Though the Ravens statistically are not a top 10 defense recent history shows the Ravens identify themselves as a defensive team. I would hope we could agree on that just as the Falcons are more identified by their high powered offense though their defense is actually ranked higher.

In both games the offensive team took the early lead into the halftime break; the Falcons were up by 10 and the Patriots by 6. As we all know now, the defenses rose to the occasion and posted two shut outs in the second half. As the Ravens and 49ers defense too control their respective offenses did just enough to pull ahead and stop the late rally. I can't say it more due the Falcons and Patriots offenses misfiring considering they scored in the first half. In the Falcons case, they scored 24 first half points.

I can only conclude that defense still reigns supreme; in particular it comes down to superior half time defensive adjustments. If an offense scores points in the first half it only makes sense that they try the same game plan in the second half. Hence if you can make the right halftime adjustments you have a good chance of shutting down the offense and running out the clock if needed.

As I look back at the Panthers season I can't help but think these results bide well for the Panthers. Carolina finished 18th in scoring offense and the exact same rank in scoring defense. Here's how the Panthers stack up against the final four teams in these playoffs:

Panthers: 18th offense - 18th defense

Ravens: 10th offense - 12th defense

49ers: 11th offense - 2nd defense

Falcons: 7th offense - 5th defense

Patriots: 1st offense - 9th defense

Okay so we still have a long ways to go but I think it if you look at the Panthers performance in its first 10 games versus the last six you see a nice trend upward from both sides of the ball:

AVG Pts per Game Panthers Opponent
First 10 Games 21.3 21.4
Last 6 Games 28.8 20.0
Delta 7.5 -1.4

That's a nine point scoring swing in those last six games, a fact we've talked a lot about on CSR. It's a key fact if you compare how those Panthers averages from the last six games stacks up to the regular season rankings. Those rankings would tie the Saints for the #3 offense and the Bengals for the #8 defense. Now that's the kind of balance and top 10 units comparable to those teams playing yesterday. So now all we need to do is hold those numbers going into the 2013 season.

No problem right?

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