In fourteen days the Arizona Cardinals will play in their first ever Super Bowl. They will do so under the leadership of head coach Ken Whisenhunt and quarterback Kurt Warner, both of whom have already won a championship. As offensive coordinator for the Steelers, Whisenhunt was the architect of the only touchdown pass thrown by a receiver in Super Bowl history, a play which cemented their win over the Seahawks three years ago. As quarterback for the Rams, Warner capped a league MVP season in 1999 by also being named Super Bowl MVP.
Miles away are the Kansas City Chiefs, whose roster also sports a bevy of Super Bowl participants: Damon Huard, Mark Bradley, Rocky Boiman, Alfonso Boone, and Ricardo Colclough. With leadership like that, one wonders how the Chiefs weren’t in contention this year. In truth, it’s been years since Kansas City has had much in the way of Super Bowl-caliber leadership other than Dick Vermeil. Trent Green and Priest Holmes watched their teams win while they rode pine, both having been supplanted from their starting jobs (Green by Warner). Now, however, new GM Scott Pioli looks to change that, and I for one think he’s exactly the man to do it. Why is my faith in him so strong? Because he sees the falsehood the favorite line of sports journalists this decade: defense wins championships.
Of course the adage has been around much longer than 10 years, but after Baltimore’s defense dragged their travesty of an offense across the finish line, journalists everywhere latched onto the phrase and repeated it ad nauseum. It’s a cute premise, but it carries little factual basis. Yes, Baltimore’s defense was the superior unit on the field in Super Bowl XXXV, but take a closer look at that maligned offense. The reality is that Jamal Lewis carried them to the #16 overall offense and #5 rushing offense that season. Without his consistent play, it’s tough to imagine the Ravens would have so handily disposed of the #5 Giants defense, to say nothing of their dispatch of the #1 Titans defense in the divisional game three weeks prior.
But it’s that sort of selective application that gets used to make the argument. It works well for explaining Tampa’s win over Oakland in XXXVII, but not nearly as well for explaining how a #3 St. Louis defense was bested by a pedestrian #13 New England offense the year before. It informs why Pittsburgh trumped Seattle three years ago, but explains nothing about Indianapolis’s dominance of Chicago two years ago. In fact, it seems to only work about half the time.
But what about the other half? Well, it looks as if offense also wins championships. Apparently scoring more points than your opponent does the trick. It’s a novel concept around these parts, but I think we Chiefs fans could adapt to the idea if we really put our minds to it.
So here’s my new adage for all of you: defense + offense wins championships. A team needs to be dominant in one phase and passable at a bare minimum in the other, and by passable I mean this: the lesser of a team’s units must still be able to capitalize on an opponent’s mistakes. Tampa’s championship team was built around a remarkable defense that posted 31 interceptions, 43 sacks, and 21 forced fumbles (7 recovered) during the regular season. Had their offense been incapable of finishing the job, it wouldn’t have mattered. If you’d like proof, just reference their six seasons since. On the flip side, having a transcendent offense with little to no support on defense (see: Colts teams from early in this decade and/or Bills teams from early last decade) is equally damning. It isn’t sufficient to fire on only one cylinder–only a well oiled, well maintained machine will do the trick.
Enter Scott Pioli. Scott comes from an organization that gets it. They don’t pride themselves on their offense or their defense. They pride themselves on their offense AND their defense. One unit isn’t expected to carry the other. The point is not to dominate one and survive the other. The point is to dominate both, and nothing less will do. Chiefs fans my age or younger haven’t seen that attitude from their own organization. They’ve seen Marty’s dominant defense struggle to pull along an offense that didn’t score points. They’ve seen Dick’s offense try to put up 30+ points a game out of fear that no lead was too big for Greg Robinson’s defense to blow. And now they’ve seen Herm’s…. well folks, to be honest, I don’t know what the hell we just saw. I just know what I’d like to see, and I have a hunch that Pioli might be able to bring us that.
I also have a hunch that this article will be revisited in about 14 days.