Defense Wins Championships, Not Quarterbacks

It has long been said that said that the quarterback is the most important position in football, perhaps even more so in the past decade with the explosion of passing numbers and teams’ ever increasing reliance on airing the football out. With 4,000 passing yards becoming ordinary for quarterbacks, many believe that you not only need a good quarterback to be a championship contending team, but an elite franchise quarterback.

If the start to this season has proven anything, it’s that this is not entirely true. There are five teams off to 3-0 starts – the Patriots, Ravens, Broncos, Eagles, and Vikings. Interestingly, only the Ravens from this group have used a quarterback that was on their roster last year. Three of these teams, the Patriots, Broncos, and Eagles, have not used a quarterback who had ever started a game before this year. And the Vikings have gone undefeated with journeyman Shaun Hill and Sam Bradford, whom the Eagles traded away in the offseason.

Of course, it’s not like any of these teams have received poor quarterback play. On the contrary, the NFL’s five undefeated teams gotten very efficient play in their passing games, uncovering some breakout stars in the process. But there is one thing they all have in common – defense.

The five aforementioned teams are all in ranked in the top eight in fewest points allowed. For good measure, despite efficient quarterback play, not a single one of them ranks in the top half of the league in passing yards. Philadelphia ranks 17th, the highest among the group. That stat could be somewhat misleading, since teams with good defenses are less likely to be tailing big late in games, which would result in garbage time passing yards. But the truth remains that the NFL’s best teams in the young season have been doing it on the strength of dominant defensive performances.

Furthermore, of the top 12 defensive teams through the season’s first three weeks, only the Titans had a losing record. If you take a look at the top scoring teams, the list is far less indicative of overall record. By contrast, only half of the top 12 offensive scoring teams had a winning record entering Week 4. It’s obviously very early in the season to make any kind of definitive judgments, but the early numbers indicate that defense is the most telling factor as to why football teams win games.

That’s not to say you don’t need a good quarterback, as it’s still the single most important position in the NFL. If your team has one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the league, chances are they won’t be very successful, no matter how good the rest of the team is. However, it is possible to be a great team without the advantage of a perennial Pro Bowl quarterback. I would even go as far to say that the quarterback position has become overvalued because of the prevalence of the passing game in today’s NFL. It’s one thing to shell out big money for an elite Hall-of-Fame type star, but in recent years we’ve seen teams hand out questionable contracts near or above $100 million to the likes of Jay Cutler, Ryan Tannehill, and Colin Kaepernick. It would be much wiser to use that valuable cap space to invest in other areas of need, like defense, rather than overpay for a mediocre quarterback.



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