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Quarterbacks and Defense

   by Bryan Leonard - 09/20/2005

There’s really no truer adage in pro football than the importance of quarterbacks and defense. Betting lines take these factors into account, and you can understand why. The offense revolves completely around the play of the quarterback, the only player on offense who touches the ball every play. QBs need touch, and accurate, split-second decision making all the time to keep the offense moving. They also require leadership skills, clutch ability on third and fourth downs, and even are asked to call plays or change calls instantly at the line of scrimmage based on what they see the defense doing.

Think about the Denver Broncos. Mike Shanahan won two Super Bowls with Denver during the 1998 and ‘99 seasons, and was hailed by some as an offensive guru. However, notice how Denver’s offense has plummeted, along with Shanahan’s reputation as an offensive “genius,â€쳌 ever since John Elway retired. Shanahan has been shuffling quarterbacks, as well, ever since to try to find someone capable, quickly moving from Brian Griese to Jake Plummer. Denver has had great wide receivers the last few years and a terrific running game with their unique zone blocking schemes. However, the lack of consistent quarterback play since Elway retired has been huge in Denver’s rare playoff performances, and playoff flops.

Then there’s the old adage “Defense wins championships.â€쳌 Simply put, it does. Look at the history of the Super Bowl and you find teams with great defense often winning it all. Even those Bronco teams with Elway were strong defensively. Defense has been the cornerstone of the Patriots’ three titles the last four years, and the only time they didn’t win it was when the No. 1 defense of Tampa Bay rolled over the Raiders and their No. 1 offense, 48-21, in the Super Bowl (as a dog, no less).

Think about these things when examining this weekend’s NFL games. The biggest improvements the Dallas Cowboys made this offseason was upgrading the defense and getting a capable quarterback, with Drew Bledsoe replacing the aging (and awful) Vinny Testeverde. Both were huge in the Cowboys upset win on the road in the opener, at San Diego. In fact, Bledsoe’s best years may be behind him, but he still has something left in the tank. He was 18-of-24 for 226 yards, 3 TDs and no picks.

Bill Parcells knows the value of a balance between quarterback play and defense. Unfortunately, that balance is not always easy to attain. You can make a list of several teams that have a good quarterback and no defense (Vikings, Rams, Titans, Chiefs, Colts, Saints), and teams that have no quarterback but good defenses (Bears, Redskins, Ravens). If the latter plays each other, what can a sports bettor look for? Unders! Last week the Bears and Redskins battled with no QB play, in a 9-7 game that sailed way under the total.

The Ravens had 324 passing yards in the opener, but it’s clear QBs Kyle Boller and Anthony Wright are still second rate: They combined for one touchdown and 3 interceptions. The 2000 Ravens went on to win the Super Bowl with a great defense and no QB (Trent Dilfer), but that’s the hard way to do it. And don’t look for lightening to strike twice, either, as Baltimore still has a one-dimensional offense with no quarterback. Balance is a key, but quarterback play and defense are at the top of the list of NFL success.

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