Does defense really win championships? Offense-envying defensive players and crusty Old School coaches love saying so. Who knows if there’s any truth to “defense wins championships” or if it’s just another of those handy sports cliches. Me, I think having a full well-rounded team with good players at all positions wins championships.
Certainly, having a great defense never hurt any team seeking to win a championship. It didn’t hurt the 2000 Ravens or the 1985 Bears. It won’t hurt the 2013 Seattle Seahawks.
Yes, I think the 2013 Seahawks belong in the conversation with those great defenses of yesteryear, and not just because they have a terrific nickname. The stats bear me out on this. This particular statistical accomplishment was tweeted Thursday morning and it’s pretty impressive:
In 2013, the Seahawks led the NFL in fewest yards and points allowed, fewest passing yards and most takeaways. The last team to lead the league in those four key defensive categories? The 1970 Minnesota Vikings.
The Vikings’ defenses of the late ’60/early ’70s were among the best the NFL has ever put on the field. They did indeed ride that defense to an NFL championship in 1969. Of course they lost the Super Bowl that year to AFL representative Kansas City. And they would lose their three post-merger Super Bowls as well.
Those Vikings teams could actually be held up as the best argument against the “defense wins championships” cliche. They were completely dominating on the defensive side of the ball, but when the big game rolled around and they needed points, they just kept coming up short.
Could Seattle be in for a similar let down Sunday night against Peyton Manning and Denver? The Seahawks have at times shown an ability to put up a ton of points, but lately their offense has been struggling a little. Marshawn Lynch is still a (silent and media-spurning) beast but Russell Wilson has been inconsistent at quarterback and Seattle has been somewhat exposed in their outside passing game.
But Seattle is not the sort of team that necessarily depends on stringing together lots of productive offensive drives and putting up tons of points. They’re not a methodical offensive team like Denver. They’re more of a grind-it-out team who will hit you all of a sudden with the big play. Marshawn Lynch will bust off a 40-yard run. Russell Wilson will make something happen with his feet or his arm. The defense will pick one off and run it back.
Legendary Vikings coach Bud Grant once famously said that football is all about turnovers and big plays. The Seahawks more than any other current team exemplify that philosophy. They don’t necessarily look like they’re doing much on offense most of the time, and then suddenly they’ll hit you. Defensively, they are completely relentless. They get after the quarterback and their secondary is filled with playmakers.
Will Seattle’s Bud Grant-like formula lead to a Super Bowl victory? It never did for Bud Grant. And Bud Grant had Fran Tarkenton for three of his Super Bowls. Bud Grant had arguably the greatest front four in football history. Unfortunately for Bud, on three occasions, his teams ended up matched against a great dynastic power of the ’70s.
The Vikings with just one Super Bowl victory would have ascended to the level of the three juggernauts – the Raiders, Dolphins and Steelers – that defeated them, but they could never get over the hump, relegating them to second-class status among great franchises of the era.
Seattle is not up against dynastic brilliance in the Denver Broncos, but they are up against Peyton Manning, possibly the greatest quarterback in NFL history. The Legion of Boom vs. Peyton makes for amazing pre-game hype and should make for great Super Bowl theater. Statistically, the Legion of Boom may be in the conversation with the 1970 Vikings and some other epic all-time defenses, but if Peyton Manning picks them apart on Sunday, none of that will matter.
All that counts in the end is trophies. Just ask the Vikings. Stats don’t mean a thing if you don’t put that ring on it. As I believe Beyonce or possibly Pete Carroll once said.