Over the past several years, thanks to rule changes that have given quarterbacks more protection and allowed receivers to run rampant through the secondary, football fans have been conditioned to expect dynamic aerial battles and skyrocketing scores. Great offenses can thrill fans and rack up points, but the old adage that "offense wins games while defense wins championships" still rings true.
A great defensive performance hinges less on timing than it does on sheer force of will proper training. Here are five examples of the power of defense, and proof that history is bound to repeat itself.
Perhaps no team has enjoyed a longer run of success on the backs of their defense than Pittsburgh. Beginning in 1974, the Steelers went on a six-year run during which they won four national titles thanks to the legendary "Steel Curtain." With a bevy of Hall of Famers like tackle Mean Joe Greene, linebackers Jack Lambert and Jack Ham, and cornerback Mel Blount, the Pittsburgh defense flat-out bullied their opponents into submission.
The one classic incarnation of the Steel Curtain is often said to be the 1976 team, which actually failed to win a title, but held their opponents to 9.9 points per game and registered a modern pro record of five shutouts. The Steel Curtain had already been established prior to this, though: it became known two years earlier. In their franchise's first-ever Super Bowl appearance, the 1974 Steelers were tasked with stopping Minnesota and their Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton. And with their own offense stymied for much of the game by Minnesota's "Purple People Eaters," the Curtain enveloped Tarkenton, allowing just 119 total yards and even opening the scoring with a second-quarter safety en route to a 19-6 win. The Vikings' lone score of the day? A defensive touchdown after recovering a blocked punt.
Regardless of which specific version of the Steel Curtain was the best, the bottom line that they established is clear: the best recipe for sustained success is by committing to a great defense.
No historical discussion of defensive performances can take place without mentioning Chicago, who, in 1985, put together a season that may never be duplicated. If defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan had his way, he may have given the ball back to the opposing offense every drive just so that his defense could wreak havoc some more, and it showed in the way he coached.
Behind the fabled 46 Defense — the strategy of which was to put as much pressure as possible on the quarterback on nearly every play — the Bears had an intimidating defense that put them in the history books. Yet even after a 15-1 regular season, they saved their best for the playoffs.
In the first two rounds, the Bears pitched consecutive shutouts against the Giants and Rams, holding them to a combined 311 yards of offense. Then they topped it off with a 46-10 thrashing of the Patriots, a game in which the defense recorded seven sacks, two interceptions, four fumble recoveries, and a safety.
We're going to take a break from great team defenses for a moment to focus on a single play by an otherwise unheralded player. Trailing by a touchdown in the final game of the season, the Titans drove methodically down the field with time winding down in the hope of sending the game to overtime. They got the ball to the Rams' 10-yard line with five seconds to go, giving them one final chance at pay dirt.
They appeared to have it in their grasp when Steve McNair completed a slant route to wide receiver Kevin Dyson with room to run. But as Dyson sprinted and lunged for the end zone, veteran Rams linebacker Mike Jones delivered a textbook tackle, dragging Dyson down just one yard shy of the promised land. There was nothing flashy about Jones's play, but it stands alone as the biggest tackle in pro history.
The 2007 Patriots were something to behold. With an offense that shattered scoring records and a defense that allowed the fourth-fewest points in the league, the Pats compiled the first perfect 16-game regular season in history, and appeared destined to become the first 19-0 team.
The Giants, on the other hand, seemed like a team destined to be a footnote. Reaching the Super Bowl more because they got hot at the right time than because they were one of the best teams, the Giants' 17th-ranked defense appeared to be no better suited to stopping the Pats juggernaut than the Generals are to stopping the Harlem Globetrotters.
But then a funny thing happened. After having enough time to read a book in the pocket for most of the year, Tom Brady found himself running for his life. The G-Men sacked Brady five times and hit him on nearly every single pass attempt, frustrating the future Hall of Famer and holding the high-powered New England offense to just two scores in a 17-14 win.
You didn't think we'd discuss the best defensive performances without talking about the most recent display of dominance, did you? Led by a secondary featuring three Pro Bowlers, the Seahawks allowed the fewest points, yards, passing yards, and forced the most turnovers. So when they faced off in the in the final game against a Denver offense that just wrapped up the most prolific offensive season in league history, we all figured we were in for a great battle. Many even predicted the Seahawks to come out on top. But I don't think anyone could have predicted the beat down that unfolded.
After scoring a record 606 points in the regular season (a record previous held by the aforementioned 18-1 Patriots), the Broncos managed just eight — EIGHT — in the final, and even those points didn't come until the end of the third quarter when the game was well out of reach.
In an era when the deck is stacked so heavily in favor of the offense and the passing game, the level of play reached by the Seahawks in 2013 only reaffirms that regardless of circumstances, a great defense will always provide the surest path to victory.
If history is any indication, both on the field and off the field a good defensive strategy is key. To defend your home against the best rodent quarterbacks in the game, head to Tomcat.com.
Craig Lowell has written for Sports Illustrated, The Fan Hub, The Sports Post, NBA Entertainment, and the North Adams Transcript. Follow him on Twitter @craigrlowell.