Last week I wrote briefly on whether or not the idea that “Defense Wins Championships” was a bit outdated. Looking solely at overall rankings in points per game scored/allowed, it seems as if good defenses are still a key element of a Super Bowl winning team. Of the 3 “bad” defenses which have won Super Bowls lately (2006 Colts, 2007 Giants, 2009 Saints), both the Colts and Giants got hot down the stretch to carry their team to a Lombardi trophy.
However, points per game allowed is a pretty simple measure of a defense and doesn’t tell us all that much about the unit in question. Here are some more numbers on the Super Bowl winning defenses:
Yards Per Drive Allowed
Average YPD: 26.2
Average YPD+: 108.8
Best YPD+: 1974 Pittsburgh Steelers (131)
Worst YPD+: 2006 Indianapolis Colts (79)
# of teams <100 YPD+: 8
Points Per Drive Allowed:
Average PPD: 1.36
Average PPD+: 121.6
Best PPD+: 2000 Baltimore Ravens (150)
Worst PPD+: 2006 Indianapolis Colts (75)
# of teams <100 PPD+: 1
Average TO%: 21.8%
Average TO%+: 114.8
Best TO+: 2000 Baltimore Ravens (165)
Worst TO+: 1976 Oakland Raiders (76)
# of teams <100 TO+: 9
Average TD%: 14.9%
Average TD%+: 123.2
Best TD%+: 2000 Baltimore Ravens, 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (152)
Worst TD%+: 2006 Indianapolis Colts (74)
# of teams <100 YPD+: 3
As you can see, other than the 2006 Indianapolis Colts, Super Bowl defenses have remained pretty consistently above average in most of these variables. Here are the 41 Super Bowl champion defenses from 1970-2010 ranked by my Defensive Efficiency Scores:
The average DSCORE of a Super Bowl winner is 20.83. Only 2 teams in 2011 had a DSCORE that high: San Francisco and Baltimore. The 2011 Patriots checked in at 5.93 and the Giants at -4.42. However, like the 2006 Colts and 2007 Giants, both current Super Bowl teams are playing better than their regular season numbers indicate. Whichever team wins next Sunday will join the recent trend of teams whose defenses got hot at just the right time.
You’re probably familiar with this old football axiom: “defense wins championships.” Recently though, some have claimed that perhaps we are entering a new era – one where offenses rule. Will today’s younger generation grow up saying “offense wins championships”? Probably not. Take a look at the post-merger Super Bowl winners and their offensive and defensive rankings (points scored/points allowed):
The first thing that stands out is that elite (top 5) scoring offenses have won a Super Bowl just 3 times since 2000. So 8 of the 11 Super Bowl winners had a non top 5 offense. In the 20 years previous, only 6 teams had a non top-5 offense. Between 1970-1999 only two Super Bowl champions had a non top-10 offense. That’s happened 5 times in the last 11 years. Furthermore, 2 of the last 4 Super Bowl winning teams (2007 Giants, 2008 Steelers) had very mediocre offenses. Also weakening the “offense wins championships” is the fact the 2007 Giants’ “bad defense” was (almost single-handedly) responsible for a Super Bowl win and played much better down the stretch than their overall season ranking indicates.
Looking ahead to Super Bowl 46, we see two teams with better offenses than defenses. The Patriots were 3rd in offense, 15th in defense. The Giants were 9th in offense and 25th in defense. However, like in 2007, the Giants (and also the Patriots) are playing much better defense of late. Because both offenses are so good, Super Bowl 46 could possibly be a repeat of Super Bowl 42 where a statistically unimpressive defense is responsible for winning the game.
Lastly, if Kyle Williams doesn’t turn 2 punts over, or if Billy Cundiff hits an easy FG, we are probably looking at at least 1 – if not 2 – elite defense/mediocre offense teams in the Super Bowl. In that case, we might be talking about a totally different type of shift (away from elite offenses winning the Super Bowl) It seems to be more of a case of statistical noise, small sample sizes and some flukey luck (e.g. the 2nd ranked 2006 Patriots defense suffering several illnesses and injuries in the AFC Championship to the Colts) more than a real shift away from “defense wins championships.”
One has to look no further than the 2011 Saints and Packers to see that the NFL is still very much a league where an effective defense trumps an elite offense.
82 receptions, 1536 yards, 9 TD’s
122 receptions, 1569 yards, 9 TD’s
Two of the most statistically gaudy seasons by NFL WR’s in recent memories. Both undrafted players, both playing in Super Bowl 46 in less than two weeks. The Giants’ Victor Cruz and the Patriots’ Wes Welker are a reminder that many of our favorite sports’ best players have not been coveted draft prospects. However, before we start anointing every middling 2012 WR prospect as the “next Welker (or Cruz),” we should put these two Super Bowl wide receivers’ numbers in perspective.
Since the AFL/NFL merger there have been 561 undrafted wide receivers to appear in at least 1 NFL game.
156 of them never caught a single pass
55 caught 1 pass
151 caught between 2 and 9 career passes
Wes Welker, in 2011 alone, caught more passes than 518 of the 560 (92.5%) other receivers to play in a game since 1970 have in their entire careers.
Victor Cruz, with 82 receptions in his career, has more career receptions than 502 of the 560 other receivers.
Of the top 10 undrafted WR’s with the most career receptions, only 3 have ever won a Super Bowl – Rod Smith (2), David Patten (3) and Drew Pearson (1)
The Top 20 undrafted WR’s (below) account for 40.1% of all undrafted WR receptions and 40.5% of all undrafted WR receiving yards:
Two other names on that list stand out: Lance Moore and Davone Bess. It’s very likely that within 5 years, both guys will be in the Top 10, possibly Top 5, all time. Of course, finding a quality undrafted WR is a little bit easier since the draft was cut down from 12 rounds, so it’s not surprising that many of the top guys in this list are from recent years.
Who will be the next great undrafted WR? An undersized guy like Fresno State’s Devon Wylie, Oregon State’s James Rodgers, Connecticut’s Kashif Moore or Tulsa’s Damaris Johnson? A position change, like Appalachian State QB DeAndre Presley? Or maybe a smaller school guy like Liberty’s Chris Summers? Maybe a guy who is projected to be a mid-late rounder who slides out of the draft entirely.
One thing is for certain: the success of Cruz and Welker will ensure that scouts leave no stone unturned in the yearly quest to find the best long-shot receiver in the nation.
This is the first in a series looking back at the stats from the 2011 regular season.
Coming into the 2011 season, there was a lot of hype surrounding the AFC East. Many thought that this could be the year that the Jets overtook the Patriots atop the division. After the first few weeks, it looked as if the Patriots would not only have to contend with the Jets but the Bills as well. However, as it has been the case in 8 of the 9 previous seasons when Tom Brady has been healthy, the Patriots reigned supreme in the division. Here’s a look at the four teams’ defenses:
Much was made of the Patriots’ defense, which gave up a historic number of yards this season. However, they were also tops in the division in making their opponent work for a score. The Patriots’ defense yielded one point for every 19.8 yards of offense it gave up. That ended up being more than a yard and a half yards per point than 2nd place Miami:
One of the reasons the Patriots’ defense was so much better than average in YPP was that they forced a lot of turnovers. The Dolphins were the only AFC East team to be below average in TO% (percentage of opponent drives which ended in a defensive takeaway):
The Dolphins topped the division in Points Per Drive allowed, giving up just 1.69 PPD:
Unsurprisingly, the Patriots gave up more yards per drive than their division rivals, with 40.35 YPD, 2nd worst in the league and 24% worse than league average. The Jets led the way with a stingy 26.99 YPD – 2nd best in the NFL:
The Jets also led the division in passer rating allowed with an impressive 69.6 – the only team in the AFC East to be better than the 82.5 league average.
Perhaps as a result of their quality pass defense, the Jets saw opponents pass the ball 2.53% less frequently than league average. The Bills faced the lowest percentage of pass plays in the division -their opponents threw just 53.44% of the time. The Patriots faced passes most frequently, a combination of often having big leads and a porous secondary.
The Dolphins had the best run defense, allowing a meager 3.7 yards per rushing attempt. Both the Bills and Patriots were worse than average at stopping the run:
The Patriots had 40 sacks on the year, second best in the division to the Dolphins’ 41, however they had fewer sacks per pass play than both the Dolphins and Jets:
The Bills gave up touchdowns the most frequently, allowing opponents to find the end zone on 28.32% of their drives – significantly worse than the league average 20.99%.
The Jets had the clear cut best defense in the league and the Bills had the worst. The Dolphins and Patriots were both good in some ways and bad in others. Miami gave up about 1.5 fewer points per game, but also forced far fewer turnovers than New England and scored only 1 defensive TD to New England’s 3. In adjusted PPG, the Dolphins defense was only .75 points per game better than New England. In my final 2011 defensive efficiency rankings, I had New England ranked slightly ahead of Miami on account of the Patriots’ ability to create takeaways and score points.
The top of the 2011 draft has yielded a number of impact players. In fact, each of the top 7 picks – Cam Newton, Von Miller, Marcell Dareus, A.J. Green, Patrick Peterson, Julio Jones, Aldon Smith – looks to be a star in the making. Conversely, the 2005 draft yielded perhaps the worst top 10 picks in any NFL draft in history. However, the 2011 San Francisco 49ers playoff run might provide some redemption for an otherwise putrid crop of players. Here’s a quick look at each of the members of the worst top 10 in history:
1. Alex Smith – QB – 49ers
The much maligned Smith is finally having a breakout year of sorts (which I touched on in October). He ended 2011 with the 9th best passer rating (90.7) – better than Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers (among others). His completion percentage (61.3) was good for 12th best – slightly better than both Eli Manning and Matt Schaub. His interception % (1.1) was best in the league – even better than Aaron Rodgers. Smith also led the league with 6 game winning 4th quarter come-from-behind drives. Not a bad year for a guy who many still regard as a flop. To be fair to Smith’s detractors, there was plenty to bash about the 49ers’ QB coming into this season. In his first 6 years, Smith had completed only 57% of his passes and had thrown more INT’s (53) than TD’s (51). However, with a quality offensive mind in Jim Harbaugh coaching the 49ers and an offensive scheme that minimizes Smith’s chances of making a mistake, Smith has blossomed into a quality NFL QB. Whether he can repeat his 2011 performance next year remains to be seen, but his heroics against the Saints have all but guaranteed another year (at least) in San Francisco.
2. Ronnie Brown – RB – Dolphins
Talented, but injury-prone, Ronnie Brown has had only one 1,000+ yard season – rushing for 1,008 in 2006. Only twice in 7 years has Brown managed to play in all 16 games and in 6 years with the Dolphins he averaged less than 12 games played per season. However, when he was healthy, he was pretty good – averaging 4.3 yards per carry and catching roughly 30 passes per season out of the backfield. Still, it’s tough to view him as a success as the #2 overall pick in the draft. Brown was disappointing as a backup in Philadelphia and was nearly traded to Detroit in-season (before Jerome Harrison’s brain tumor derailed the deal). It’s likely Brown will be playing elsewhere in 2012.
3. Braylon Edwards – WR – Browns
Like Ronnie Brown, Braylon Edwards only has one 1,000 yard season under his belt in an underwhelming 7 year career (2007). For his career, he’s averaged 48 receptions and 760 yards per year. Not terrible, but not particularly good for a guy selected this highly. In his defense, Edwards has often been saddled with terrible QB’s (Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson, Mark Sanchez) but his attitude, off-field issues and seemingly constant nagging injuries have also played a role in his mediocrity. Edwards is currently unemployed and recovering from an injury. He is likely to find work next season, and it’s possible he could re-establish himself as a quality receiver if he lands in the right spot.
4. Cedric Benson – RB – Bears
Sub-par both on and off the field, Benson has more arrests since entering the league than he does quality seasons. In 7 years in the league, Benson has three 1,000 yard season (2009-2011) but only once in the last 5 years has he exceeded 4.0 yards-per-carry. Since 2000, there have been 46 RB’s with 1,000+ rushing attempts. Only 3 – an ancient Emmitt Smith (3.77), the forgettable Anthony Thomas (3.73) and broken down Eddie George (3.37) have a worse yards per carry than Cedric Benson (3.77). In his three years with the Bears, Benson only managed 1,593 yards spread over 3 seasons. Benson will most likely be looking for a new team in 2012.
5. Cadillac Williams – RB – Buccaneers
The 2005 Offensive Rookie Of The Year, Williams’ career was altered by back to back seasons with knee injuries in 2007 and 2008. After starting his career pretty well (1,178 yards in his rookie season), he hasn’t topped 850 yards since. 2011 was the first time since his rookie season where Williams had better than 4.0 yards per carry (although only on 87 carries with the Rams). It’s unclear as to whether or not the Rams will want Williams back, and he might struggle to find a job next season.
6. Adam Jones – DB – Titans
“Pacman” Jones had character issues coming into the league in 2005, but his behavior in the NFL has been even worse than expected. Jones got off to an inauspicious start by holding out – refusing to sign a contract which had protections for the Titans in case Jones’ off-field issues manifested themselves in his professional career. Between being drafted in April of 2005 and playing his first game on September 11th of the same year, Jones was arrested (in July) and had another confrontation with police (in early September). By the time his second season rolled around, Jones had been arrested a couple more times in 2006 and then again before his 3rd season in early 2007 – after which he was suspended for a year. His 2006 season was quite impressive – he returned 3 punts for TD’s and picked off 4 passes including one returned for a TD. After being shipped off to Dallas in 2008, Jones was quickly suspended in his new city after a hotel altercation. Jones was out of the league in 2009 and has been mediocre since joining the Bengals in 2010. He’s probably not in Cincinnati’s long-term plans.
7. Troy Williamson – WR – Vikings
A bit of an odd pick at the time, Williamson had risen up draft boards a lot in the time between the scouting combine and draft due to his impressive speed (4.32 40 yard dash). While he was fast, he was bad at mostly everything else – running routes, catching passes, returning kicks and the Vikings gave up on him after three poor seasons. In his time with Minnesota, Williamson had just 79 receptions for 1,067 yards in 49 games in 3 seasons. They traded him to the Jaguars for a low draft pick and he had just 8 catches in Jacksonville over 2 seasons. He’s out of the league and likely finished.
8. Antrel Rolle – DB – Cardinals
Coming into 2011, Rolle was probably the most successful of the 2005 Top 10. He’s a two-time Pro Bowl safety, after moving over from CB in 2008. While he might not be worth the 5 year $37M contract he signed with the Giants in 2010, he’s one of the better safeties in the league – although his play is probably best categorized as “solid” as opposed to “superlative”. He will be patrolling the Giants secondary for a few more years unless New York decides that he isn’t worth the $20M or so remaining on his contract.
9. Carlos Rogers – DB – Redskins
Rogers, a current member of the 49ers and enjoying his best season ever as a pro, was not a particularly bad player for Washington. However, he wasn’t the type of impact player you hope to land in the top 10. An above average (but not spectacular) cover corner with little play making ability, Rogers only tallied 8 INT’s in 6 years with Washington. Coming into the 2011 season, there were 11 defensive backs from the 2005 draft who had more interceptions than Rogers. Compare that to the 6 he hauled in in 2011, and it’s no wonder that some Redskins fans are a bit annoyed with Rogers’ new found hands. He is a free agent at the end of the year and there could be a number of teams interested. However, one would think that he is likely to re-up with the 49ers based on his success with the team.
10. Mike Williams – WR – Lions
Most people who follow the NFL closely are familiar with Mike Williams’ story. The former USC standout, who sat out a year after being deemed ineligible for the 2004 draft, was the 3rd straight top 10 pick that the Lions spent on a WR. Despite the two previous WR’s (Charles Rogers, Roy Williams) not working out, Williams managed to top them in incompetence with his poor performance and worse work ethic. He was reportedly lazy, often late for team meetings and got out of shape to the point where he looked more like an underweight offensive tackle than an overweight WR. Williams spent just 2 years in Detroit, catching 37 passes for 449 yards before being dumped. He then fizzled out in Tennessee and Oakland and was out of the league for 2 years before enjoying a minor 1 year renaissance in Seattle under his former college coach Pete Carroll. Williams battled injuries and spotty performance this year and his future is in question. He will probably stick with the Seahawks for another year or two.
All in all, the 2005 Top 10 was littered with under-performers and bad character guys. Furthermore, it’s possible (likely?) that at least half of these guys will be out of the league for good after training camp cuts next summer. While a 49ers Super Bowl championship would bring some redemption for this group, it will most likely remain one of the worst and most underachieving top groups in NFL Draft history.
Traditionally, bad teams throw the ball more than good teams. It might seem a bit odd considering the success that pass-heavy teams have had in the last decade, but good teams with pass-oriented offenses tend to build big leads and thus run the ball more in the 2nd half to chew up clock. Conversely, bad teams might be run-oriented but end up throwing a lot more than they run since they are playing from behind so frequently. The 2007 Patriots are a great example of this. Tom Brady, Randy Moss and company are remembered for a high-octane passing attack. However, you might be surprised to know that they threw the ball less than 1% more than league average. Over the course of the year, the Patriots called a pass play 57.4% of the time. League average in 2007 was 56.5%.
Furthermore, since the AFL/NFL merger in 1970, there has never been a season in which the playoff teams average pass play percentage has greater than league average. Take a look:
2011 could have been that year, it had the 2nd smallest difference between playoff team pass % and league average – despite the 3 most run heavy teams in the league all making the playoffs. In fact, those three teams (San Francisco, Houston, Denver) are the only three teams who ran more than they passed.
It looks like 2012 could be the first year in NFL history where playoff teams pass more frequently than non-playoff teams. Although, as you’ll notice in that graph, every time it gets close to happening, the playoff teams start to a bit more towards the run for a few years.