Can other teams adopt the "Patriot Way" that head coach Bill Belichick's squad accomplished last season?
New England ranked 25th in overall defense, 30th in both passing defense and opponents first downs per game and 32nd in third-down "D." The 14-2 Patriots also had the best record in the NFL.
A plus-28 turnover margin, the best since the 1983 Redskins, helped the Pats make up for a defense that gave up big chunks of yards. However, New England proved that an NFL team could succeed with a great offense and a below-average defense. But the Pats were far from the first team in recent history to get the job done without shutting teams out.
While the Steelers (14th in offense, second in defense) and Packers (ninth in offense, fifth in defense) proved that balance still makes champions, it's becoming more common for teams with great offenses that allow around three TDs a game to still be successful, even champions. Prior to 2006, only two Super Bowl-winning teams had allowed 20 or more points per game — the 1983 Raiders (21.1) and the 1968 Jets (20.0).
But counting the ’06 Colts, who allowed 22.5 points a game, three teams in the past five seasons have allowed more than 20 points per game. The ’07 Giants allowed 21.9 ppg. and the ’09 Saints allowed 21.3 ppg. The ’10 Patriots gave up 19.6 ppg. If they had won the Super Bowl, that would have landed them in sixth place among Super Bowl-winning teams in points allowed.
With the evolution of the spread offense in the college game, it's common to see great offense-subpar defense combinations find success in the NCAA. Last year's BCS title game contenders were far from stonewalls on "D." Oregon ranked 34th and Auburn, the champ, had the country's 60th-ranked defense.
In a story last fall on AnnArbor.com, sports reporter Michael Rothstein wrote about the trend in the college game. He discovered that of the 32 schools that had a top-10 offense and a defense ranked 90th or lower from 1999-2009, only nine of them finished with losing records.
The NFL is not at that kind of ciip, yet, but the past few seasons have shown that if an offense is high-octane enough to score at will, a great defense isn't necessary for success. It might not be the best recipe to win it all — just look at last year's final four teams — the champion Packers allowed 15.0 ppg., the Steelers allowed 13.9, the Bears yielded 17.9 and the Jets gave up 19.0 ppg. — but hey, all you have to do is score one more point than your opponent to win.
The Saints, Colts and now Patriots have been the teams that find ways into the playoffs despite a defense ranked in the league's bottom half. It helps that the quarterbacks of those teams are Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, and all three teams could have similar paths to success in 2011.
So it seems to me, the question that must be asked is, when will the Texans finally break through and earn the first playoff berth in franchise history?
Houston has ranked among the top four teams in the league in offense three seasons in a row. Yet, the franchise has never made the playoffs thanks to a porous defense. Could 2011 finally be the campaign when the Texans take a page out of what New England did in ’10, and leapfrog the Colts in the AFC South?
Their offseason changes on defense — hiring the proven and highly respected Wade Phillips as coordinator and spending their first five draft picks on defensive players — promise that there will be an improvement. The offensive firepower is certainly there behind QB Matt Schaub, RB Arian Foster and WR Andre Johnson, and the Texans are in a division that is not known for its stellar defensive units.
Not every great-offense-subpar-defense team can get past the "defense wins championships" mantra. The offense needs to be really good and the defense needs to at least be opportunistic if it is going to give up points. But in a league that continues to emphasize offense and scoring, it is more and more possible for these teams to make the playoffs, and even win championships.
The question remains, can the poster child for this kind of team, the Texans, finally make the postseason?
Follow Kevin Fishbain on Twitter