Super Bowl 2010: when the best defense is a good offense
It used to be said that defense wins championships. Super Bowl 2010 highlights how much that has changed: both the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints rank pretty low in defense.
Very little has been left unsaid in the run up to Super Bowl XLIV Sunday night.
Yet during two weeks when the media cycle appears to resemble “lather, rinse, repeat,” one comment has been conspicuously absent: “Defense wins championships.”
That this most sacrosanct of sporting truisms should be missing on this of all weeks shows how radically the National Football League has changed during the past decade.
Defense could win the championship game tonight. But it is certainly not the primary reason that both teams are here. In terms of the baseline measure of yards allowed, the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints would rank 18th and 25th overall.
To compensate, each has developed an identity and a style of play that makes its defense better than the raw data might indicate. But Doomsday Defenses they are not.
The salary-cap era, which took hold last decade, has prevented teams from stockpiling limitless talent on both sides of the ball. At the same time, the NFL has also emphasized rules that encourage offensive play, protecting quarterbacks and freeing wide receivers from overly aggressive defenses.
It was the Colts who first demonstrated how dramatically these trends had changed the league, winning the Super Bowl in 2007 with a defense that was, by some measures, one of the worst in the history of football at stopping the run – allowing 5.3 yards per carry.
They were followed in 2008 by the New York Giants, who allowed 351 points in the regular season – the second most ever for a Super Bowl champion. Then in 2009, the Arizona Cardinals advanced to the title game despite allowing 426 points during the regular season – the most ever for a Super Bowl contestant.
Saints' flawed defense
This year, the Saints, in particular, are a defensive team beset by flaws.