There were two Super Bowls played yesterday, the one we saw and the one written about in today’s New York Times by William C. Rhoden.
The game Rhoden saw “Posed a great matchup and a timeless question that went to the heart of football: Can a great high-yield offense beat a great low-yield defense? At the end of Sunday’s hard fought game the answer was no, but only by a hair.”
In the game we saw the Cardinals outgained the Steelers by 115 yards and lost in the fourth quarter when their high-yield defense couldn’t stop the Steelers low-yield offense.
Twice Rhoden writes that James Harrison’s “back-breaking play” – a 100-yard interception return — “set the tone for the Steelers’ victory.” But if the interception broke Arizona’s back and set the tone, why were they ahead 23-20 with less than eight minutes to play? It seems pretty obvious to us that the play that broke the Cardinals’ back wasn’t a defensive play at all but Santonio Holmes’s end zone catch with just seconds left in the game.
Rhoden’s case that defense is taking over pro football is somewhat lame. He cites as evidence that last year “undefeated New England came to Super Bowl XLII with the highest-scoring offense in league history. The Patriots were unplugged by a relentless Giants defense that sacked quarterback Tom Brady five times.” Well, if you’re going to use evidence like that, you can always argue for the superiority of defense because one team is always going to give up fewer points than another. On the other hand, if one is going to contend that defense wins over offense, why didn’t the Giants, who were 17th in points allowed last year with 351, lose to the Patriots, who were 4th in the league in scoring defense with 274 points? The Giants didn’t have a better defense than the Patriots in last year’s Super Bowl, they just played a better game.
If defense is taking over, why didn’t the Colts, who were number one in scoring defense in 2007, win the AFC instead of the Patriots? For that
matter, how did the Colts win at the end of the 2006 season with a team that was 23rd in the league in scoring defense, giving up a horrendous 360 points ?
The question “What wins championships – offense or defense?” is indeed an old one. And to anyone who does a little fact checking into NFL history, the answer will always be: “Which season are you talking about?” To paraphrase a well known quote from the old Pittsburgh Pirates left-hander Bob Veale on the subject of pitching vs. hitting, good defense stops good offense every time, and vice versa.