How should a personnel dept. and coaching staff build a perennial playoff team in the current era? Is it better to be run-oriented or pass happy? Is it better to stop the run, stop the pass, or be balanced on defense? Let's look at some data from the past 5 years of conference championship games and Super Bowls after the jump.
First of all, with regard to the idea of a balanced defense, I would like to take a moment to dispel the notion that a solid rushing defense necessitates a weak passing defense since the opponents will pass when the running game isn't established. Having a great run defense does not excuse or necessitate a bad pass defense.
In 2009, the Vikings were tied for 6th/7th with the Steelers in fewest ypc allowed. BAL, SF, GB, NYJ, and CIN were the other teams that allowed fewer than 4.0 ypc. Of those, the Jets (#1), Packers (4th), Ravens (6th), Bengals (7th) and 49ers (9th) were also in the top 9 in passer rating allowed. The Steelers were 15th, still an average pass D. Only the Vikes had one of the 7 best run Ds and a below average pass defense.
In 2008, the Vikes were 2nd in fewest ypc allowed. PIT was 1st, with CHI, PHI, BAL, TEN, NYJ, WAS, SF and CIN rounding out 3rd-10th (NYG was 11th and MIA was 17th) The top 10 in lowest passer rating allowed were BAL, PIT, TEN, GB, PHI, TB, WAS, NYG, MIA and CHI. That means that 8 of the top pass Ds also had top 11 run Ds. There were actually fewer great rushing defenses which performed poorly against the pass in the past 2 years.
This chart shows the rankings by offensive yards per carry, offensive passer rating, defensive yards per carry allowed and defensive passer rating allowed. (Disclaimer: In a perfect world, I would have used Success Rate and Success Rate allowed for the rushing categories instead of yards per carry, but I don't have access to that information. YPC seemed the best single stat available.) At the bottom are the average ranks for all 20 teams, Super Bowl teams, and Super Bowl Champions (lower numbers are better/more important).
|YEAR||GM||TM||OYPC Rank||ORATE Rank||DYPC Rank||DRATE Rank|
|6/20 top 10||13/20 top 10||11/20 top 10||12/20 top 10|
By these numbers, the NFL is definitely a passing league, especially at the top. For all of the great running by LaDainian Tomlinson and Steven Jackson and Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson in this time, their teams only showed up in 2 conference championship games in the past 5 years (10% of the time). The strength of a team's pass defense and the quality of its passing game were the two most important things to have in order to reach the conference championship and/or Super Bowl. There were twice as many strong passing offenses and pass defenses as there were running offenses, and only the 2007 Giants won it all as a run-heavy team in the past 5 years. A stout rushing defense was the 3rd most important ingredient, and a strong running game was clearly last.
The Vikings probably need to clean house during the off-season if the team doesn't make a strong Super Bowl run, including and especially the coaches. They are clinging to models of run-oriented offense and defense in an era of passing. They haven't considered players like Cedric Griffin to be the weak links that they have been because they don't view the passing defense as important (they would rather have Griffin out there for run support). They never anticipate an opponent opening up with a passing drive because that is foreign to their old school thinking. Even when the Saints opened up with a pass from shotgun, Frazier did nothing special and the play was successful. In terms of pass defense, Frazier has only approached mediocrity once (
last season in 2008) in terms of passer rating allowed. It doesn't look as though 2010 will be his first year of leading a quality pass defense so far.