The 1991 Eagles defense was arguably a "dominant defense" led by Reggie White...With no fewer than five starters -- Eric Allen, Jerome Brown, Clyde Simmons, Seth Joyner, and Reggie White --
making the Pro Bowl, this team was the culmination of the Buddy
Ryan era (though Ryan was fired the previous offseason) and the
most dominant Eagles defense of the past 20 years.
The Eagles (10-4) are right in the thick of the playoff chase now...but to hear talk-show callers and bloggers around town and the nation, you'd think the team had no future...and no chance to move deep into the playoffs.
"Their defense gives up too many points...," you hear a lot. "It's not a dominant defense...and too many injuries. You can't go far without a dominant defense...and you certainly can't get to the Super Bowl without one.."
I knew something was wrong with this line of thinking, but I couldn't pinpoint it... until I stumbled on the wise words of "Triple D" from PE.com's On The Inside fan gallery:
"...this is NOT the same NFL you and I grew up with in the '60's. The name of the game is SPEED and game changers. Everything is geared towards the O...rules make the O even more in demand. You can win today with an average D...but you can NOT win today with an average O.
Having a great D is almost impossible in today's NFL. The game is all about scoring. If you can't score you won't win it all. Look at how the Texans beat down the Ravens D...Pats beat-down of the Jets D...with the Steelers D at home, they lost to the JETS. We put up 65 on the Giants D in 2 games...this NFL has changed forever...
The rules of the league dictate that it is an offensive league...they don't want to see incomplete passes...the back 7 is at such a disadvantage every snap...JJ was way ahead of his time with the sacks and turnovers being held in higher regard than yards allowed...
We have a lot of guys that make HUGE plays (interceptions, sacks, fumbles, timely stops, etc.) and they make them at great times... and remember, you can only cover WRs for so long. If there is no push on the QB then of course he'll find an open receiver."
Birdcrazy added his affirmations: "...this NFL ain't your father's...oh.... and how bout dem Saints...what was their defense ranked during their last run??...
Our defensive draft picks were what we thought they were....injuries are part of the game..and every team is dealing with them in one form or another this time of year..What wins a SB nowadays?..lots of luck, yes, the health factor...and who's the hot team entering the post-season..I'm riding this horse as far as she'll take me..as a fan, it's a blast, if they make it to the promised land..great...if not, welp, there's always next year..uh....maybe...we're the red headed stepchild of the NFL this year,let's enjoy the ride as long as she lasts..."
GK Brizer added his unique perspective on the misplaced emphasis on "dominant" defense in the NFL today:
"Knuckleheads,..perk up!!,..there are 3 teams,..O,D,and ST. All things considered,..a good O can beat a good D,..and visa versa. Yogi forgot about ST!......bottomline..it's not black and white,..with a subtle yet dynamic shift towards a whiter shade of pale,.(the O).....and numerous other variables."
It's not just Eagles fans who need to understand the new dynamics of the NFL... you should hear how the Ravens fan audience is pouring it on their home team about 80 miles south of the Linc, to wit: "Yeah, we're 10-4...but we should be 13-1...we would be 13-1 if we had a dominant defense like the 2000 Ravens..."
Holy cow, er, Eagle, or Raven! Talk about being spoiled by good teams!
And there are about a dozen recent rules changes in the NFL that redefine forever what the word "dominant" could possibly mean in the context of defense. I might go so far to say there will never again be a "dominant" defense in the NFL... at least nothing close to the 1991 Eagles.
Certainly all strong defenses are built upon a foundation of punishing run defense, and the 1991 Eagles allowed only 1136 total rushing yards for the entire season. That's better than the '85 Bears and the '02 Bucs on the ground.
Passing defense is a tricky category, in that teams with their own strong offenses will often force teams into throwing quite a bit in the second half of games. But the 1991 Eagles ranked best in the league with only 2807 yards allowed through the air.
In fact, the 1991 Eagles surrendered the fewest total net yards of any team of the past 20 years, and are on a very short list (three teams) who held opponents under 4,000 yards. Pretty impressive for a team that didn't make the playoffs.
And that's my point...the best Eagles defense of all time didn't even make the playoffs.
The most telling aspect of a team's defensive prowess is the statistic that is most important: points allowed.
Yards surrendered do not go on scoreboards, and they don't determine the winners of games.
And the Eagles in 1991 only gave up 15 points a game on average. Yet, the Eagles offense was so pathetic that year (with QB Randall Cunningham lost after only 4 plays in Game 1), the team could not take advantage of one of the most dominant defenses in the NFL in the past 20 years.
The lesson I learn, then: having a big point-scoring offense is something more valuable than a "dominant defense"... now more than ever in the New NFL, where guys who were taught how to hit while growing up ("you go through a guy") now have to take an extra instant to "search for the legal strike zone"... where DB's have their hands tied by the rules more than ever... and where expanded schedules will continue to deplete healthy and available defenders of the Reggie White-type skill set...
So all the one-track over-reactors out there busting on the Eagles D should pause and reflect on the new reality. Big Offense > Good Defense. Welcome to the New NFL. The wise DDD's words ring true: "The NFL has changed forever... there is no such thing as a dominant defense anymore in the NFL."