We've all heard the saying "Defense wins championships" and by now for most of us it's a bit of a tired cliche...an overly-quoted platitude. But it has stood the test of time for a reason:
Yep, the entire "saying" is "offense draws fans, but defense wins championships" or a reasonable facsimile thereof. Once in a great while, a team will get so hot on offense that it can carry them a little ways - even sometimes to a Super Bowl win - if everything else is perfect.
They weren't in 2012 when the New England Patriots' defense set a new record for futility when they lost to the New York Giants, 21-17. That was the Ahmad Bradshaw "backing up" into the endzone to put the Giants ahead late game.
Yesterday's 27-16 thumpin' of the Arizona Cardinals by the Carolina Panthers just drives the point home even more. With an offense finally maturing and gelling but still having issues and a special teams unit that STILL can't field a punt or cover a kick, it really has been the defense that has carried this team - despite all the accolades showered upon the offense in the last month or so.
The proof is in the performances. Cam was/is still hurt but playing through it like the competitor he is. I was talking my step-dad's ear off yesterday with every pass that sailed over the intended target's head or the turf in front of him.
"Cam is NOT feeling well. He's not stepping into his throws and using 'all arm' which is why he's being so inaccurate."
"Mike, watch his feet. They don't even move. He's torquing his torso but he is not using his legs."
Things like that...and they were true about his throwing motion. It was plain as day to me and also to even the commentators. Haters are going to use it as an excuse to jump on Cam all over again, but such people are very, very shallow thinkers, if they "think" at all. Cam is only three weeks removed from a car wreck that broke his back, people! And he's out there playing in the NFL? Slamming through FOUR defenders while diving for a first down? Just ignore the continued Newton-haters. They really aren't worth your time. All QBs throw INTs but how many chase down a defensive back in the open field to keep him from making it a pick-six, hm? Shades of the Jerome Bettis fumble and Big Ben's TD-saving tackle vs. Indy a few years back but Cam is the superior athlete to Big Ben.
Yes, Cam had a pedestrian outing overall, but he did make big plays when we needed them and did what he had to do to put points on the scoreboard. For an offense going up against Arizona's own tough defense, one expects some mistakes to be made. It isn't just that Cam was playing hurt, it's that a good defense causes an offense to make mistakes. Otherwise, our own defensive effort could be just filed away as "playing against a third-string QB."
Yeah, a third-string QB that just put up 300+ yards and 2 TDs against that horrible San Francisco defense.
The special teams was scary in fielding punts. I love Brenton Bersin's story, but just as the saying "nothing good happens after midnight," you don't have to be an NFL player to know that nothing good ever happens when you can't be in position to field a kick or a punt cleanly, and he looked like he was struggling simply to catch them all day.
ESPECIALLY on punts...if you don't catch it, RUN DON'T WALK AWAY! Bersin tried to field one punt like a baseball catcher trying to trap a wild pitch. That works only with a ROUND ball, Brenton! Fielding punts is the MOST black & white thing I can think of in football. Field the punt, or run away as if it's an incoming grenade. There is no middle ground here.
A second punt hit and bounced only a yard from him while he made little attempt to vamoose the area. The punt hit and bounced hard and low - 10 degrees of angle more to the side, and Brenton would have been scrambling among four Cardinals players for the ball. AGAIN. He was entirely too casual about fielding punts yesterday even while visibly struggling to field them.
Bersin is rapidly making me think of "Joe Dirt" when he's fielding punts now. He has looked uneasy at times in the past, but not to the point of turning it over. We certainly need a solid return man, but that's for another post. I just want to know who the next man up is there, because Bersin's definitely not our answer at punt returner. He's a good kid and knows he needs to do better, but knowing and doing are two different things. Besides, even if he fields it cleanly and has a return on, speed isn't something he has in abundance and he won't get very far. I really think Carolina Panthers General Manager David Gettleman should make finding and holding on to a good return man should be a top priority this offseason.
I'm simply pointing out how the special teams and the offense weren't exactly perfect and want to temper peoples' enthusiasm and expectations: if we play like that again, we will lose.
It really was the defense that saved the day. That's what a great D does. When all is said and done, a great D makes everything look all pretty and glossy on the scoreboard, but they can save a team from themselves at times also. Don't be fooled; we still have a long way to go and a short time to get there, help from Smokey and the Bandit or notwithstanding.
That's really what happened, folks. If we were playing a team with a good defense and a competent offense, they likely would have taken better advantage of our miscues and defeated us. That's what playoff teams DO and being opportunistic very often means the difference in a win and a loss. If you don't agree, go watch last year's Super Bowl on YouTube.
It wasn't the game nor the Cardinals that reminded me that "defense wins championships," but the other two thirds of the Panthers squad: namely the aforementioned offense and special teams. But what about the defense, specifically?
Well, if you go by the stats yesterday, pretty much everything. As has been pointed out, the Panthers set an NFL record for fewest yards allowed in a playoff game. THAT is a "big blankin' deal," folks. But it only serves to distract us from the multiple issues I still see on the field, and issues that are going to SINK US NEXT WEEK IF NOT CORRECTED!
I hate to sound like Chicken Little here, but I have always looked at the product on the field in a "glass half-empty" way instead of how a lot of fans just go effervescent over the good. It's a more critical approach to be sure, but it's also the same mantra Ron Rivera and 31 other head coaches use: Improve or perish.
Such is life in the NFL. If you go back and look at "offensive vs. defensive" teams in the Super Bowl, the defensive team is usually the one that comes out on top.
Just look at last year...one of the ultimate match-ups of offense vs. defense. And what happened?
A blowout win for the defense as Peyton Manning's offense decided to open that game by demonstrating to the world what the phrase "safety first" truly means.
There's also the Ravens, who have won two Super Bowls with their defense. Back when they defeated the New York Giants, led by one Kerry Collins, they had that HOF QB Trent Dilfer. We all know Dilfer from the analyst booth, but who knew he was such a scary QB?
The truth is he WAS a scary QB...for the team he was playing for. The "game manager" handed the ball off and sat and watched their defense dominate their opponents. The defense won the championship - all the offense had to do was not screw it up.
Then there's always the New York Giants. Even when "Playoff" Eli is playing (ie: the "good" Eli), both his rings he owes to his defense. Don't forget those undefeated New England Patriots with Tom Brady to Randy Moss setting records all over the place. The 1972 Miami Dolphins "only" were 16-0 entering their Super Bowl where the only score they allowed their opponents was the infamous Garo Yepremian pass that was so Roman Gabriel-esque (NOT!) that he empty-handed a pass attempt and batted the ball up in the air while surrounded by Washington Redskins defenders, then proceeded to wuss out on the "tackle" attempt. Famous clip.
The Giants defense saw to it that the 18-0 Patriots went home that night 18-1. As you can see, it literally happens to the best of them.
I think there's good reason why defense wins championships, and it's based as much in the Human psyche as much as anything. Follow me, here:
If an offense is facing a dominating defense, even a great offense like the 2013 Denver Broncos, a great defense is going to force you to be perfect, or else. The throwing windows are that much smaller and close that much faster. The pass rush gets to the QB a step quicker. In short, the game speeds up.
The QB could not even get sacked and still become rattled by the pressure. "Hearing footsteps." It happens to ALL OF THEM...NOBODY IS EXEMPT! We only have to look at the recent Buffalo Bills victory over the Green Bay Packers to see that concept on full display...or watch that "undefeated" team play in the Super Bowl. Brady felt the pressure - even when it wasn't there.
What ultimately happens is the offensive players become very much like those in war who suffer from "battle fatigue" or what I still call "SHELL SHOCK" because I am not politically correct. Blockers start feeling pressure that isn't there or look for rushers that don't come.
Same thing with QBs. As the other team gets more and more ahead, a downward spiral is going on within the minds of those trying to play offense against them.
They're shocked to begin with that another team can slow them down that much. Things start going wrong. They begin questioning their own ability to do their jobs vs. their assignments and confidence plummets, weakening resolve. Weakened resolve means less ability to bounce back from further mistakes, causing the spiral. Some may even point fingers at teammates as internal strife can start, but I think a QB like Manning would make sure things don't head that far.
Still, enough damage is done by that point. The offense becomes more timid and self-conscious while the defense grows more and more emboldened and confidence builds. The important thing, however, is that it isn't something people just can "snap out of."
My memories of yesterday's big win will be of an injured Cam valiantly leading his troops, despite his pain. The signature play I'll recall is on that 3rd & 12 where he darted left, turned upfield and ran over Deone Bucannon, carrying several tacklers from just shy of the first-down marker to a couple of yards past it while Bucannon goes tumbling backwards from Cam's superior momentum.
I'll certainly recall all the stuffed runs, the short passes that were smothered as soon as the receiver caught it for two or three yards, and most especially Thomas Davis rampaging through the Cardinals backfield, seemingly at will, and leaving an offense on the field completely bereft of any self-confidence or even hope whatsoever. That, in turn, is what led to the NFL record-lowest yardage total by the Cardinals as much as anything did in the bigger picture.
As long as the Panthers continue playing defense like they did yesterday, they'll give their still somewhat troubled offense some peace of mind in knowing that "we got your back." It will help the offensive players start the next game that much more confident, settled and relaxed instead of all tight in a "we have to be perfect or we'll lose" mindset that breeds mistakes.
Whichever team we play will have a much more potent offense than that of the Cardinals - that much is certain. They'll get more yards and move the ball on us better. The players should go into the game not thinking that but KNOWING that.
I'm sure in practice and in the film room next week, the team will be more focused than ever on the task at hand. They're bright guys with good coaches and I think they all know they have to at least clean up the offense or face being in a big hole at some point next week.
Cam's injuries were indeed part of the problem and it should be considered to start Derek Anderson next week depending on Cam's health. Derek is the backup for a reason, so he shouldn't start unless Cam is still so beaten up that he cannot perform his job adequately. Again, we can't have all the open targets not be hit with passes, as we saw. I can't help but feel like a healthy DA completes those throws but I know he won't bowl over anyone on a long 3rd-down scramble/run either. I have faith in the coaches and they'll start whoever they think gives the team the best chance to win. Unless Cam got MORE injured from the game...and a game in which he was in OBVIOUS pain...he'll be under center next week. His mere presence on the field with his teammates knowing what he has been through in the past year only helps lift and carry the offense...people will see Cam playing in so much pain and say "If he can do it with all he has been through....I can too!" It's called "leadership' and the guy has that in spades.
Meanwhile, two rookie defensive backs give the defense some life on the back end while the front seven wreaks havoc with whatever offense they're up against.
One thing IS certain: After a performance like Luke, Thomas, Big Money and the rest of the gang put on, nobody wants to play this 8-8-1 team that "doesn't belong!"
And yes, that's my friend in the meme-photo at the top. His name is Panther.......
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