While the image of Wes Welker dropping what most likely would have been a Super Bowl clinching catch just 3 and half months ago is probably still seared into the minds of Patriots (and Giants) fans, there are plenty of reasons to think that Welker will be in a position this year to atone for his drop (on an admittedly tough, but catchable, pass). After all, the Patriots have only gotten stronger on offense and their secondary has nowhere to go but up. Chances are good that Welker and the Patriots will be once again playing big games in January and, perhaps, February of 2013. However, what happens to the diminutive WR after that is a mystery.
Currently, Welker is franchise tagged and (unlike teammate Logan Mankins) decided that signing his franchise tender and getting into camp on time was a good way to ensure a good season and a potentially lucrative extension. Welker has reportedly turned down a 2 year, $18M contract which was rumored to have been fully guaranteed. Presumably, he is looking for a longer deal. The question is: is Wes Welker really worth re-signing for more than 2 years? If Tom Brady had his way, Welker would probably ride off into the sunset with Brady and Belichick in 3-4 years after winning another Lombardi trophy. While some Pats fans might not want to admit it for fear of sullying their image of Belichick the cold-hearted mastermind, Brady’s desires probably do have a little clout in the minds of Belichick and player personnel man Nick Caserio. After all, Tom Brady is not a QB who finds (or can create) chemistry with the average receiver – despite making plenty of average receivers look pretty good. Part of the Pats’ struggles to develop a young WR have come from Brady not trusting anyone other than Welker, Branch and his young TE’s. Keeping Brady happy is certainly a selling point for Welker and there is no denying that, with the exception of that one (very memorable and significant) pass in February, no one works as well with Brady as Welker does. In fact, were it not for the Brady/Welker chemistry, it is likely – or even probable – that this would be Welker’s swan song in Foxboro. As it is, he’s likely to end up with a contract extension in New England at some point between now and September of 2013.
The problem the Patriots have, and it’s a certainty that their front office knows it, is that Welker is small, takes a lot of vicious hits over the course of the year and is at the point of his career where small WR’s break down rapidly. Take a look at the yearly reception totals of the top 15 non-Welker WR’s 5’10 or shorter since 1990:
How many of those guys were worth big money after the age of 32 (which Welker will reach in 2013)? Mason, certainly. Steve Smith likely. The rest? Not so much. While Mason lasted forever and Smith looks to still be highly productive consider this:
Touches (receptions, rushes, punt returns, kick returns) through age 30:
Derrick Mason – 737
Steve Smith – 891
Wes Welker – 1063
Welker has 326 more touches than Mason did by the time each receiver got through their age 30 season. Even the 172 touch differential between Welker and Smith is nearly 2 full seasons worth.
None of this is to say that Welker cannot be productive beyond the next two years. However, most Patriots fans can attest to the fact that he gets knocked around pretty badly through the course of the season. As did Wayne Chrebet, whose style was more similar to Welker’s than Mason or Smith (the latter two being more frequently used on the perimeter than Welker). He disappeared into oblivion quickly due to injuries and concussion problems. Like running backs, small WR’s tend to age very poorly and the Patriots’ (well deserved) reputation for preferring to get rid of guys a year too early rather than a year too late seems to indicate that they will hesitate to keep Tom Brady’s security blanket in town for too many years.
With the offseason in high gear, free agency and trades have significantly changed some teams’ draft needs. Here’s an updated look at how the 1st round of April’s draft could go:
1. Indianapolis Colts – Andrew Luck – QB – Stanford
A no-brainer at this point. Luck will be the face of the Colts for the foreseeable future.
2. Washington Redskins – Robert Griffin III – QB – Baylor
Another obvious selection, the Redskins gave up a small fortune to get the franchise QB they have lacked for a very long time.
3. Minnesota Vikings – Matt Kalil – OT – Southern California
As much of a sure thing as the first two picks are at this point, the Vikings’ 3rd overall pick is starting to feel like a lock as well. Kalil fills a huge hole and represents a top talent at a premium position. The only other consideration here (assuming Minnesota doesn’t trade down) is CB Morris Claiborne, but it’s tough to see the zone-defense Vikings passing up a LT for a CB. If they ran more man-to-man, it could be possible for Claiborne to go here but Kalil is better value for Minnesota.
4. Cleveland Browns – Trent Richardson – RB – Alabama
This is another pick which seemingly is locked in, though not to the same extent as the first three. The Browns desperately need playmakers on offense and Richardson is one of the best RB’s to come out of college in the last 5-10 years. That said, a WR like Justin Blackmon wouldn’t be a shock and they could even go with Claiborne if they feel they can address the offense later. Ryan Tannehill could draw some consideration here as well, though #4 seems mighty early for him.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Morris Claiborne – CB – LSU
The Bucs have been aggressive in free agency, landing some high-priced and big-name players. However, they still have a big need at CB and it would be a real shock if they passed on Claiborne at this spot. Richardson is the only other obvious choice here if he makes it past Cleveland.
6. St. Louis Rams – Justin Blackmon – WR – Oklahoma State
Blackmon has been tied to the Rams forever and getting him at #6 seems to be a solid meeting of need and value. The Rams clearly need help at receiver and Blackmon is the best on the board. However, this is a spot where we might see our first big surprise – with the Rams passing up the WR to bolster either their offensive or defensive line.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars – Quinton Coples – DE – North Carolina
The Jaguars have three places to go at #7 – OL, WR or pass-rusher. Michael Floyd is the best WR on this board but his character might be too suspect for GM Gene Smith. Riley Reiff could be in play here, but Quinton Coples’ upside is tough to pass up. Yes, he’s inconsistent and has a high “bust factor” but the Jags pass rush was pitiful last year outside of recently re-signed Jeremy Mincey. If he can get and stay motivated, Coples has game-changing ability that Jacksonville’s D has missed for awhile.
8. Miami Dolphins – Ryan Tannehill – QB – Texas A&M
They missed out on Manning. They missed out on (or passed on) Matt Flynn. The Dolphins have been searching for a franchise QB for a decade and cannot go another offseason without adding a top talent at the spot. Tannehill has a great upside, though he’s raw and (like the aforementioned Coples) comes with a big risk of busting. However, the drop between Tannehill and the remaining QB’s on the board is steep and other than possibly over-aged Brandon Weeden none look like potential franchise guys. Either David Garrard or Matt Moore can hold the fort for a year or two if Tannehill needs a lot of time to develop.
9. Carolina Panthers – Dontari Poe – DT – Memphis
Offensive tackle (Riley Reiff?) is a possibility here, but the Panthers have needed an impact DT for a long, long time. Poe might seem like a reach in the top 10, but don’t be surprised if he ends up going this early a month from now. He has good athleticism for his massive size and has versatility to play in either a 3-4 or 4-3 front – which should intrigue coach Ron Rivera. A different DT (Fletcher Cox?) or WR (Michael Floyd?) could work here as well. Carolina has a lot of options and should be able to land an impact player at a number of positions.
10. Buffalo Bills – Michael Floyd – WR – Notre Dame
The Bills have addressed their DL in a big way – adding Mark Anderson and Mario Williams. Despite re-signing Stevie Johnson, they still badly need an improvement in their WR corps. Floyd is a top talent, with the size and athleticism to give opposing defenses nightmares.
11. Kansas City Chiefs – David DeCastro – OG – Stanford
The Chiefs have options here – Riley Reiff and Luke Kuechly among them. If Dontari Poe is still here at #11, he’s a possibility as well. However, a run-oriented team like Kansas CIty would really benefit from an elite guard like DeCastro – possibly the best prospect at the position in over a decade. He would look pretty good opening holes for Peyton Hillis and Jamaal Charles and could help make the Chiefs’ running game the best in the league.
12. Seattle Seahawks – Luke Kuechly – ILB – Boston College
Even if David Hawthorne is re-signed, the Seahawks could use help at LB. If he’s not retained, the MLB spot is a huge weakness entering the draft. Pass-rusher (the LEO spot) is another big need but Kuechly has had a tremendous offseason and it’s going to be tough for Seattle to pass on him.
13. Arizona Cardinals – Riley Reiff – OT – Iowa
The Cardinals need a LT badly – a shaky OL isn’t going to help whoever ends up at QB next year. Reiff is a potential top 10 talent who represents a huge upgrade for the Arizona line. A WR or potentially an edge rusher could be in play, but it’s very difficult to see Arizona passing up a top LT prospect like Reiff.
14. Dallas Cowboys – Melvin Ingram – OLB – South Carolina
Despite franchising Anthony Spencer, the Cowboys could use an upgrade opposite DeMarcus Ware. More to the point, they need a playmaker on defense who takes some attention away from Ware. Ingram isn’t the biggest or fastest guy, but he has a knack for coming through with big plays and should help bolster the Dallas front 7. If David DeCastro is available here, he would be a strong consideration for the Cowboys as well.
15. Philadelphia Eagles – Fletcher Cox – DT – Mississippi State
The Eagles’ biggest need – MLB – was addressed by acquiring DeMeco Ryans from Houston. They could take a WR to complement the recently re-signed DeSean Jackson, though there isn’t a great value on the board here. A defensive tackle is also near the top of Philly’s wish list and Fletcher Cox has huge upside. A strong, agile defender, Cox could prove to be the best interior pass rusher in the 2012 draft.
16. New York Jets – Nick Perry – DE – Southern California
Despite having salvaged Aaron Maybin and re-signing Bryan Thomas, the Jets are in need of a pass rusher and Nick Perry is a fantastic value at this spot. His size and explosiveness will make him a force in the AFC East for years to come.
17. Cincinnati Bengals – Cordy Glenn – OG – Georgia
The Bengals have a huge need at OG and Cordy Glenn is a true mauler with the athleticism to be a truly elite player. Solidifying the line will help let 2nd year QB Andy Dalton develop and should improve the Bengals running game which struggled at times last year.
18. San Diego Chargers – Courtney Upshaw – OLB – Alabama
Upshaw has seen his stock take a bit of a nose dive since the end of the college football season. Once projected as a top 10 pick, it wouldn’t be too much of a surprise if Upshaw drops to the 2nd half of the round. While there are some questions about his size, length and ability to play in space, his pass-rushing potential is still very appealing – especially to a team like San Diego which has lacked a top pass-rusher at the OLB spot for a few years. The Chargers also have a huge hole at WR and could go with Kendall Wright, Rueben Randle or possibly Stephen Hill to replace the departed Vincent Jackson.
19. Chicago Bears – Michael Brockers – DT – LSU
Having addressed their perpetual WR problem by acquiring Brandon Marshall, the Bears have a few options at #19. Having been spurned by free agent DE Jeremy Mincey, the Bears still need an upgrade opposite Julius Peppers so Whitney Merciclus could be in play. A selection at OT also wouldn’t come as a surprise with Jonathan Martin being an option. However, Amobi Okoye is still unsigned and Michael Brockers’ upside at this point is irresistible. The Bears won’t be able to pass up the raw but talented former LSU DT.
20. Tennessee Titans – Whitney Mercilus – DE – Illinois
It’s tough to gauge where the one-year wonder Mercilus will go but if he’s still on the board at #20, the Titans will take a long look at him. Tennessee has a big hole at DE and have been searching for a pass-rusher at that spot for awhile and Mercilus has some of the best pass rushing ability in the draft.
21. Cincinnati Bengals – Kendall Wright – WR – Baylor
Having added a RB in BenJarvus Green-Ellis and bolstering the OL a few selections ago with Cordy Glenn, it’s time for the Bengals to add a dynamic threat to complement A.J. Green at WR. Wright took some flak for running poorly at the combine, but it’s clear that he plays a lot faster than his 4.6 time indicates. He had a great pro day last week and his athleticism and play-making ability will make the Bengals passing attack extremely difficult to contain.
22. Cleveland Browns – Dre Kirkpatrick – CB – Alabama
Dre Kirkpatrick started the 2011-12 offseason as a potential top 15 pick. However, his run in with the law and a mediocre combine (including reportedly lackluster interviews) have dropped him a little. The Browns need a WR to help Colt McCoy, but they can grab one pretty easily in the 2nd round – plus none of the remaining WR’s are great value here. Kirkpatrick is a good fit lining up opposite Joe Haden, and could potentially shift to safety where the Browns are thin.
23. Detroit Lions – Janoris Jenkins – CB – North Alabama
A lot has been made of Janoris Jenkins’ off-field and character issues. However, someone will take a chance on him in the 1st and the Lions seem like a good fit for his skills. Detroit has a fair bit of talent on defense, but lack the DB’s necessary to contain the top NFC passing attacks. Jenkins talent has never been in question, if he had a clean character, he could potentially be a top 10 pick. Taking a gamble on him here makes a lot of sense for the Lions.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers – Jonathan Martin – OT – Stanford
The Steelers could go in a number of directions at #24. They could use a ILB to replace James Farrior – Dont’a Hightower could be a fit. They could also add a DB, NT or OG. Even a RB isn’t totally out of the question, though probably unlikely until round 2 or 3. However, they will be very hard pressed to pass up Jonathan Martin at this spot. Some questions have come up about Martin since a lackluster pro day which could cause him to slide to this point of the 1st round. If he’s there in the final third of the round, Pittsburgh won’t let him get past them.
25. Denver Broncos – Devon Still – DT – Penn State
The Broncos have made the biggest news of the offseason, adding Peyton Manning and shipping out Tim Tebow. However, they lost Brodrick Bunkley to the Saints and really need to upgrade their interior DL. Devon Still has a nice combo of strength and athleticism for his size and could be a true impact player along Denver’s line.
26. Houston Texans – Rueben Randle – WR – LSU
WR is an obvious need for Texans with the team having few other glaring holes. Finding a quality #2 WR to take some pressure off Andre Johnson is a must for Houston. Randle fits the offensive scheme pretty well and possesses good size and pretty good speed. He would make the already dangerous Texans offense even more potent.
27. New England Patriots – Andre Branch – DE – Clemson
Even before losing Mark Anderson to AFC East rival Buffalo the Patriots needed to upgrade their edge-rusher situation. It looks likely that the Patriots will move back to more 3-4 looks in 2012 and Andre Branch would look very good lined up opposite Rob Ninkovich at OLB. He has the size and length that coach Belichick covets and gives the Pats the OLB/DE they have sorely missed since Willie McGinest left half a decade ago.
28. Green Bay Packers – Kendall Reyes – DT – Connecticut
The Packers struggled to replace Cullen Jenkins last year and Mike Neal is constantly hurt (and now suspended). Kendall Reyes is a late riser who has good feet and strength. He should turn out to be an excellent 5-technique in the NFL and will look great lined up next to B.J. Raji.
29. Baltimore Ravens – Mark Barron – SS – Alabama
Ed Reed can’t play forever and the Ravens’ other options at safety aren’t great. Barron is a tough player who fits what they do defensively and has the right attitude to succeed in Baltimore. Other options could include a ILB like Dont’a Hightower or OL help.
30. San Francisco 49ers – Coby Fleener – TE – Stanford
The 49ers have added some intriguing weapons for Alex Smtih – Randy Moss and Mario Manningham – but they are still lacking a reliable red-zone threat other than Vernon Davis. It’s possible Moss could recapture his 2007-2009 form, but San Francisco could stand to add some over-the-middle options to complement their outside threats. Fleener should be able to fit in quickly, having played under coach Harbaugh in college.
31. New England Patriots – Harrison Smith – SS – Notre Dame
The Patriots have done a nice job filling some holes in free agency but still have a glaring need at safety. Pat Chung is a solid starter but often banged up. Other internal options Sergio Brown and recently signed Steve Gregory are not guys you want starting on a potential playoff team. Harrison Smith has been climbing draft boards after showing off some good skills and interviewing well at the Combine. He’s the smart, tough type player Bill Belichick loves.
32. New York Giants – Dont’a Hightower – ILB – Alabama
The defending Super Bowl champs don’t have a ton of holes to fill, and usually just go with the best player available. Alabama’s Dont’a Hightower can fill one of the Giants’ few true needs – MLB – and also represents the best player on the board at this point. A hard nosed, down-hill linebacker, Hightower will solidify the middle of New York’s D.
(Originally posted by me at Mocking The Draft)
Coming off a 13-3 season and a Super Bowl loss, the AFC champion New England Patriots have a bevvy of early draft picks and an estimated $25-30M (after 2011 rollover) in cap room to play with. Their needs are mostly on the defensive side of the ball, no surprise given they were 2nd worst in yards allowed in 2011 and their porous secondary was to blame for the Giants late TD drive in Super Bowl 46. However, there are a few places on offense the Patriots must address:
WR2 & WR3: Wes Welker is a pending free agent and must be retained. All signs seem to point to the Patriots and Welker working out a long term deal or (in a worst case scenario) Welker getting Franchise tagged. However, the rest of the Patriots WR corps is a mess. Deion Branch is old, unsigned and in the twilight of his career. Chances are he will be re-signed to a 1 year, low cost deal as his rapport with Brady is very good. Unfortunately, he’s not a #2 WR any longer and the Pats have to find someone to line up opposite of Welker. The Chad Ochocinco experiment didn’t work out, and it remains to be seen whether he will get a chance to compete for a spot in camp. The other WR’s on the roster: Tiquan Underwood (re-signed after the Super Bowl), Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater are not realistic options for a lot of playing time.
The Pats figure to be in the market for both a veteran and a younger player at WR. They have been linked to Brandon Lloyd, who has said he wants to play under Patriots Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels. However, Lloyd is represented by agent Tom Condon, with whom the Patriots had a falling out in 2004. Condon represented then 1st round pick Ben Watson and the Patriots (essentially) forced Watson to dump Condon in order to get a deal done. In the 7+ years since, the Pats have not worked a single deal with Condon.
Other veteran options include Robert Meachem who has the field stretching ability the Pats covet, or Eddie Royal who McDaniels was fond of in Denver (he would be a #3 option if Branch is not brought back). The Pats have been rumored to be interested in Mike Wallace and/or DeSean Jackson but both seem to be unrealistic options.
In terms of draft picks, the Pats figure to be looking for either a taller down-field option like Rueben Randle or Juron Criner (if he runs well at the Combine) or a dynamic playmaker like Jarius Wright or Joe Adams.
Offensive Line depth: The Patriots only other pressing need is reinforcements along the line. 2011 draftee Marcus Cannon looked decent in his limited duty after recovering from cancer and he figures to be a key backup at RG/RT. Brian Waters was excellent in his first year with the Patriots but is old and has been considering retirement. If Waters does retire, Cannon will be asked to play RG and New England will need a new backup G. The Pats have a pair of unsigned centers in Dan Connolly and Dan Koppen, and figure to retain at least one. Ryan Wendell is capable of playing center if needed, though one would think Belichick will look to upgrade the spot if a good opportunity presents itself in the draft.
The rest of the Patriots offense is in good shape. They could look to add a third TE or a replacement for the unsigned BenJarvus Green-Ellis but those are fairly small holes to fill. On defense, however, it’s a whole different story:
It remains to be seen whether or not the Pats go back to a 3-4 base after using a 4-3 for much of 2011. The base they use will most likely be dependent upon what talent they can find to bolster their starting unit. Here are their (many) needs on D:
DB: Despite having the 2nd worst pass defense (by yardage) in the league in 2011, the Pats CB’s are somewhat set for 2012. Devin McCourty, a Pro Bowler in 2010, fell apart in the Patriots’ new man-coverage heavy scheme in 2011. He’s a much better zone defender. He ended up switching to free safety in sub packages (5+ DB’s) at the end of the year and looked comfortable in that role. Patriots CB coach Josh Boyer said he expects McCourty to be at CB in 2012, not FS (though, who knows). Ras-I Dowling, a 2011 2nd rounder looked very good in camp and early in the season – winning an opening day starting spot – but hurt his hip and ended up on I.R. He figures to get another shot at starting. 2011 starter Kyle Arrington is an adequate #2 or a high quality slot CB. The Pats have some depth with late-season revelation Sterling Moore, former Texans’ CB Antwaun Molden (unsigned) and possibly WR convert Julian Edelman.
It’s a different story at Safety, where the Patriots need a lot of help. Pat Chung is a quality player but cannot stay healthy. James Ihedigbo (unsigned) wasn’t a disaster but isn’t a starting caliber player. At one point the Patriots tried Matthew Slater at FS with unsurprisingly poor results. McCourty is a good option at free safety if only because the pickings will be slim in the draft and free agency. Josh Barrett and Sergio Brown are special teams only guys who failed in their chances to win a spot. Ideally, the Patriots will find a safety with good coverage skills to pair with Chung (who is better in run support). They offered Dashon Goldson a contract last summer and could be interested in him if he hits the open market. A veteran like Mike Adams could help solidify the position as well. The Patriots figure to draft a safety early in 2012 if there is decent value to be had. Mark Barron seems to be a popular pick but might lack the coverage skills the Pats need. A guy like George Iloka could work or the Patriots could take a CB with some positional flexibility – Dre Kirkpatrick (with a trade up in round 1) or Jamell Fleming might interest Bill Belichick.
3-4 DE/ 4-3 DT: Regardless of scheme, Vince Wilfork is the only guy who figures to be a sure-thing starter. Brandon Deaderick has played well enough to be an incumbent starter at 5-technique if the Pats go to a 3-4. The rest of the line is a mess. Kyle Love, a former undrafted player, is still developing but was manhandled in the Super Bowl. The Pats will need a big body next to Wilfork. They have experimented with kicking Wilfork to 5-technique and using Love at nose tackle, so don’t be surprised if they pull the trigger on a guy like Dontari Poe (Belichick loves huge, athletic guys) early in the draft. One would think that Belichick would covet Quinton Coples and/or Michael Brockers but those guys will be long gone by the time the Patriots pick. Late 1st round 5-technique possibilities include Fletcher Cox or Devon Still (if he slides).
Veteran options here include a big offer for Calais Campbell or more affordable choices like Kendall Langford or Wallace Gilberry.
3-4 OLB/4-3 DE: Andre Carter and Mark Anderson were big successes as 2011 newcomers but both are unsigned for 2012. The Patriots probably would like both back but Anderson might want a contract which the Patriots view as too pricey for a guy who was frequently subbed out due to his deficiencies in the run game. Carter was a team leader but is old and coming off a serious injury. He also struggles in the 3-4 and might not want to return as a situational player. Rob Ninkovich is a serviceable starter at OLB in either scheme but 2nd year man Jermaine Cunningham’s season was a disappointment – he got injured early in camp and never managed to acclimate to the new 4-3 scheme before hitting IR with another injury. The Pats really need a guy who can bring pressure and can be a 3-down player.
Mario Williams might be on the Pats radar – the two biggest free agent splashes the Pats have made were Rosevelt Colvin and Adalius Thomas – both edge LB/DE types. More likely, the Pats will try to find someone in the draft like Andre Branch, Vinny Curry, Cam Johnson or Chandler Jones. They covet guys who have long arms and are 6’3+ 250+ (ideally 6’4 260).
ILB depth: Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes are quality players but the Pats need an upgrade at nickel (coverage) LB in their “light” sub packages. Tracy White supplanted Gary Guyton (unsigned and unlikely to return) but White needs to be upgraded. This figures to be a place where the Pats will find a veteran role player like Leroy Hill
Lastly, the Pats special teams are pretty set with quality coverage guys and a reliable kicker/punter. They do, however, need an upgrade at kick returner – neither Julian Edelman nor Danny Woodhead was successful in that role in 2011. Most likely any WR they draft will be a guy who can challenge for regular kick returning duty or perhaps 2011 2nd rounder Shane Vereen – who missed extensive time with a hamstring issue – can help out.
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.
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.