Have offenses taken over football?
During the 2020 football season, Nick Saban conceded something that really discouraged me about the game of football.
Alabama’s longtime head coach, who is considered to have one of the greatest defensive minds in the history of college football, said good defenses are no longer needed to win championships.
“It used to be that good defense beats good offense. Good defense doesn’t beat good offense anymore,” Saban told ESPN back on Oct. 23. “It’s just like last week. Georgia has as good a defense as we do an offense, and we scored 41 points on them. That’s not the way it used to be. It used to be if you had a good defense, other people weren’t going to score. You were always going to be in the game.
“I’m telling you. It ain’t that way anymore.”
I was starting to believe Saban, especially after the way Alabama crushed a very good Ohio State defense in the national title game and the way Joe Burrow and LSU made Clemson’s great defense look in the 2019 title game.
The trend was becoming worrisome to me because I have always been a “Defense wins championships, offense sells tickets” kind of guy.
Finesse teams are not supposed to win championships. Look at Dan Marino’s Miami teams. They had great offenses, but his defenses could not stop a nosebleed. John Elway never won a Super Bowl until the Broncos started producing championship caliber defenses.
The Steelers, Cowboys, Raiders, Bears, Giants, Redskins and Ravens were all known more for their dominating defenses than their offenses on their way to Super Bowl glory. In the college ranks, Alabama had always been known as a defense-comes-first team than an offensive one.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said the Tigers would never take the next step if they did not figure things out on defense. So, he brought in Brent Venables to run the Clemson defense and two national championships later his point was proven.
However, that logic has started to change, especially with rules in both the NFL and College Football geared mostly to help teams score.
Alabama, which had arguably its worst defense in the Saban era, won the national championship this year with a dominating offense and an, at best, average defense. The Crimson Tide made it look easy going up and down the field on Ohio State in the national title game. The same Ohio State defense that drilled Clemson in the Sugar Bowl.
The Tide averaged 48.5 points and 541.6 yards per game in 2020. LSU, who also had an average defense, scored 48.4 points and 568.4 yards per game.
Is Saban right? Is this the new norm in football? Offenses sell the tickets and win the championships, too.
Even Venables conceded it is becoming increasingly difficult for defenses to slow down offenses. During the Tigers’ open date this past season, he admitted he did not enjoy watching the Georgia-Alabama game that weekend.
“It is stressful. I was just stressed watching it,” he said. “I am no fun to watch it with. I look at all the other stuff other than where the ball is going.”
Venables was getting stressed because of all the offensive talent Georgia and Alabama were displaying in the Crimson Tide’s 41-24 victory.
“I am worried about all of those real fast receivers at Bama or Georgia smashing the ball down the A gaps at will with Zamir White,” he said. “So, I am no fun to watch games with. It was not fun.”
And if you are defensive guy like me and Venables, it has not been fun to watch the last couple of years.
However, there is hope.
Clemson did win the national championship in 2018 with a defense that led the nation in scoring defense and was fifth in total defense. The Tigers suffocated an Alabama offense in the national championship game that was just as explosive and dynamic as this past year’s Crimson Tide.
This past Sunday night, Tampa Bay won Super LV, thanks in large part to a defense that harassed and got after one of the best offenses in the Super Bowl era.
Maybe Nick Saban is wrong. Maybe in most cases a good defense will beat a good offense. Unfortunately, Saban has not been wrong too often.