In the final couple of weeks of the NFL season, and to the delight of many in the Northeast, the Super Bowl match-up is finally set: the New England Patriots vs. the New York Giants.
With everyone wrapped up in the excitement of a rematch of the 2007 Super Bowl, something very important is getting lost; where’s the defense?
Long has there been the old adage in the NFL, “defense wins championships,” and I have always been a big believer in this.
The NFL has been trending in recent years, due to rule changes to an extent, towards a heavily pass-oriented, high-scoring league.
However, I have still stood firm that the great defensive teams would win out in the year. This, of course, is not the case this year.
I have said for a while that this would be a defining year for the NFL, in regard to whether defense or offense would prove superior in the playoffs.
And of course some people would make the argument that balanced teams actually win championships. However, that doesn’t appear to be the case either.
This is a season that saw four quarterbacks pass for 4,000 yards, two of which broke Dan Marino’s single season passing yards record, which had stood since ’92, and four quarterbacks throw for 40 touchdowns. Clearly the league is in a new era.
For years now great offenses have helped teams dominate in the regular season, but one way or another defense wins out.
Of course, sometimes offenses win, like with the Colts’ recent Super Bowl victories, but they didn’t have bad defenses, they were at least average. But when the two best teams in the regular season, the Patriots (13-3) and the Packers (15-1), not only had the two worst defenses in the league, but two of the worst defenses of all time, something has clearly changed in the NFL.
Of course, the truly great defensive teams could still have won out in the playoffs, but after the Patriots beat the Ravens, granted with a bit of luck, and the Giants beat the 49ers, an arguable all-time great defense, with some good fortune of their own, the times have changed.
The Patriots and the Giants are not defensive, nor balanced teams, I would even go as far to say they aren’t even offensively balanced teams; they are passing teams.
The Patriots had the thirty-first overall defense this year, allowing an average of 411.1 yards a game, they had the thirty-first ranked pass defense, and allowed an average of 21.4 points a game.
Meanwhile, the Giants weren’t any better, sporting the twenty-seventh ranked defense, twenty-ninth ranked passing defense, and let up an average of 25 points a game.
As far as balance is concerned, and not being a one-dimensional offense, the Patriots averaged 110 yards rushing a game, finishing with the twentieth ranked rushing attack, so a little below average.
The Giants however, a long-time “defensive, running team” didn’t even average 90 yards rushing a game, and had the worst rushing offense in the league.
However, what these teams did well was at seemingly the only thing that matters: throwing the ball.
The Patriots averaged 317.8 yards through the air this season, with the second ranked passing offense, and second ranked offense overall. Which is what helped the Patriots average 32.1 points a game, third most in the NFL.
On the other side is more of the same, with the Giants fifth ranked passing offense, 295.9 passing yards per game.
Teams that may not have good defenses can make up for it by creating turnovers however, so the yards may not mean as much as they appear to, but the Patriots had a -3 turnover differential this season, so they actually gave the ball away more than they took it from their opponents, and still one.
The Patriots even managed to beat the Ravens despite turning the ball over three times.
Additionally the Giants didn’t even average as many points scored per game as they allowed, so they seemingly just got hot and played three good games at the end to make it to a Super Bowl.
Now, the Giants defense took a hit due to injury during the year, and have a great pass rush anchored with sack machine Jason Pierre-Paul, and may not be as bad as they were during most of the regular season.
Also, the Patriots, while having an awful defense, have heart and beat a very good Ravens team in spite of a bad game by future Hall of Fame quarterback, Tom Brady.
Obviously, the Patriots would not be where they are without Brady, and will have a hard time winning the Lombardi trophy without an effort consistent with Brady’s usual standards, but the defense showed they can make enough stops to win a game, or at least keep it close.
This is a Patriots offense that features Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, the most feared tight end tandem in football, and all-pro receiver Wes Welker.
The offense also has Benjarvis Green-Ellis at running back, who was severely under used during the season, who looked good in New England’s win over Baltimore in the AFC championship, and should prove to play a big part against New York.
Not to mention the Patriots have Tom Brady at the helm, and even though he doesn’t mind playing outdoors in the cold, his shoulder sure does.
Brady should be in full force playing indoors at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Eli Manning has silenced a lot of critics this year, putting up almost 4,000 yards, 29 touchdowns, and managed to cut down on his interceptions this year. Making it to the Super Bowl against Brady helps validate his “I’m a top five quarterback” comments from earlier this year.
Also, Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Mario, Manningham make up one of the best wide receiving trios in the league.
Plus on paper, the Giants appear to have the better defense, and running back Ahmad Bradshaw could prove to be somewhat of a factor as well.
So both teams’ defenses are showing some life, and could potentially cause a turnover that decides the game.
Both teams won their conference championships with some fluky plays at the end of regulation and in overtime.
In a match-up with two very similar teams, Super Bowl XLVI could very well be decided by a lucky bounce or a final possession.
As much as a rematch of the 2007 Super bowl may be, it is overshadowing the bigger story that is the 2012 NFL season.
This could very well be the defining point in a new age of football where defense and the ability to run the ball, staples of traditional football, are now secondary to an elite quarterback who can throw 50 times a game and put up 400 hundred yard passing games.
Ryan Glavey can be contacted at email@example.com