The League

Anthony Stalter
National Blogger

Anthony Stalter

Senior Sports Editor for The Scores Report

Defense does it again


Defense still wins championships.

It's not really even a discussion. Not when you look at the proof that this year's postseason provided, at least.

In terms of scoring, the top-ranked offense coming into the playoffs belonged to the New England Patriots. They were knocked out in their first game because Rex Ryan designed a scheme that made Tom Brady uncomfortable in the pocket, blanketed Danny Woodhead and took away the deep pass. Mark Sanchez threw three touchdowns in that game but had the Jet defense not been as good as it was that day, then Brady would have surely out-dueled "Sanchise" in the end.

The week before the Jets beat the Patriots, Ryan shut down another future Hall of Fame quarterback in Peyton Manning. What's fascinating is that Ryan did so with a completely different game plan. He went after Brady, but mostly played coverage on Manning. Thus, in the matter of two weeks, Ryan took out two of the best quarterbacks we will ever see play the game by using two entirely different schemes.

Granted, in the end, the Jets fell to the Steelers - who produced a defensive touchdown and limited New York to only a field goal in the first half while jumping out to a 24-0 lead. It was also Pittsburgh's defense that shut down Baltimore the week before in order to get to the AFC title game.

Speaking of the Ravens, they produced perhaps the best defensive performance in this year's playoffs when they held the Chiefs to just one touchdown on their home field. Baltimore's defense frustrated Kansas City's offense so much that head coach Todd Haley relieved Charlie Weis of his play-calling duties at halftime. After their performance, several writers talked about how Baltimore's defense was playing at a Super Bowl level.

In the NFC, it was certain team's defensive efforts that doomed them. The Eagles' red zone defense was the worst in the league and it showed against the Packers, who converted on all three of their trips inside the 20. The Falcons' defense was so bad against Green Bay the following week that the Packers took a 14-point lead into halftime and then added to that lead with two more touchdowns in the third quarter. By that time, their defense was allowed to pin its ears back and get after Matt Ryan because they knew Atlanta had to throw.

Of course, the Falcons' NFC South rivals weren't much better the week prior. The Saints gave up 41 points to an offensively challenged Seattle team and displayed some of the worst tackling of the season on Marshawn Lynch's incredible touchdown run late in the fourth quarter. One year after their defense helped the Saints win their first Super Bowl, it helped send them home early this season.

It wasn't until the NFC title game when the defenses rose up. Whether Jay Cutler could have returned in the second half is probably a moot point, seeing as how dominating Green Bay's defense was in the first two quarters. Clay Matthews gets a lot of recognition for his play, but Tramon Williams might be the most underrated cornerback in the league. Sam Shields certainly made a name for himself too, didn't he?

Give Chicago credit for making adjustments after Aaron Rodgers took the Packers straight down the field on their first possession. That game could have been much, much worse had it not been for the Bears' defense coming up with a couple of huge stops when Green Bay was in their territory. Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs had two of the finer defensive performances of the postseason and if it weren't for them, Caleb Hanie wouldn't have had the opportunity to make things interesting in the fourth quarter.

No, it's not surprising that the season of offense is being overshadowed by the postseason of defense. Teams like the Steelers are built for the playoffs because they have a defense that can fluster their opposition's quarterback week in and week out. Teams like the Jets can make it to two straight AFC title games with Mark Sanchez under center because their defense can scheme for anyone. Teams like the Packers can make the Super Bowl out of the sixth seed because their defense is playing the best football of the season.

The NFL is a passing league now and we could very well see a shootout in two weeks because the game will be played indoors. But make no mistake: the four teams that were left standing last weekend did so because the play of their defense. And it'll be whichever defense steps up in the end that will allow either Pittsburgh or Green Bay to hoist the Lombardi Trophy on Feb. 6.

By Anthony Stalter  |  January 25, 2011; 3:13 PM ET  | Category:  Defense , Green Bay Packers , Pittsburgh Steelers , Super Bowl Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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