Paul “Bear” Bryant once said that defense wins championships, but is that really the case?
We’ve seen great offensive players lead their teams to Super Bowl championships, including arguably the greatest quarterback to ever play the game in Tom Brady. As good as Brady is though, the one thing he’s always managed to have in his corner, is a top ten rated defense.
To illustrate the point that defense wins championships, one doesn’t have to look any further than the differences in success seen between the Green Bay Packers during Brett Favre’s first five years on the team and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during Jameis Winston’s first five years.
When you compare the two quarterbacks and the numbers they both put up through their first five years, you’ll see that they are almost identical in what they were able to accomplish. After you adjust Winston’s numbers based on the games remaining in his 5th season, you start to see a pattern emerge. Both quarterbacks will have somewhere around 77 interceptions and 52 fumbles. They both will have been sacked 168 and 178 times while both putting up 8 and 7 fourth-quarter comebacks and both orchestrating 10 game-winning drives.
Favre managed to put up a few more touchdowns, but he also threw the ball over 200 times more than Winston did over the same period. Their passing attacks were both aided by very similar rushing games as the teams are only separated by 12 rushing yards over the 5 year periods if you only take into account the leading rusher. It isn’t just the leading rusher though, as both Favre and Winston will have put up 10 rushing touchdowns and both will have put up around 930 rushing yards apiece.
Although both have put up almost identical numbers throughout their first 5 seasons, there are two areas in which they drastically differ, coaching and defense.
During his first 5 years on the Packers, Favre had the good fortune to find himself only playing for one coach, Mike Holmgren. This meant he only had to learn one playbook, one offensive scheme and knew what was going to be expected of him week in and week out. Winston, on the other hand, finds himself already on his 3rd head coach in just his 5th year in the league. This means it’s his 3rd time having to learn a new playbook, his 3rd time having to learn an entirely new offensive scheme, and his 3rd time having to learn what’s expected of him from the head coach and how to build communication with the head coach.
The other area they differ drastically, is in defense. During his first 5 years in the league, Favre found himself leading a team that would average a top 7 defense, while Winston has found himself leading a team that has averaged a dismal and abysmal 25th ranked defense. This separation of defensive levels is what has proved to be the difference between winning and not winning, between playoffs and watching the playoffs on television, and ultimately may prove to be the difference between going into the hall of fame and not.
Favre proved over the years that he had the ability to win games and he had the ability to do what needed to be done. We’ve seen flashes of the same mentality from Winston which proves he has the ability, but we’ve yet to see it over an extended period of time. When they’re both putting up almost identical numbers, and they’ve both played behind the same rushing attack, you start to see that the problem doesn’t lie with the quarterback, but rather the defense the team puts on the field and the coach that puts them there.
With Winston finally having the opportunity to play under a coach that has proven repeatedly he knows how to win that he knows how to get the job done, perhaps it’s time we start to work on improving what has become one of the worst defenses in the league. It doesn’t matter if Winston is putting up 5 touchdowns or 5 interceptions, because the defense has shown they’re not able to stop the opposing team from scoring, and as long as that remains an issue, the Buccaneers will continue to find themselves on the losing side of close battles. Winston finds ways to keep the game close and he finds ways to bring the team back from a deficit, but now the team has to find a way to close out those games and make sure that Winston and the offense aren’t doing it simply, so the defense can give it away.
The Buccaneer defense is stacked with talent, and they’re stacked with a lot of young talent. It’s only a matter of time before the young guys get to the level that the veterans are playing at, and when that happens, they’re going to start winning games and winning them in bunches. It’s true, defense wins championships, and eventually, it’ll be the defense that brings another one back to the Bay.