On the eve of the 2013 season, the NFL has fully transformed into a passing league. More teams are passing, and when they do, they are getting more yards and fewer interceptions.
What this has done is place a vast amount of importance on the quarterback. Teams have won Super Bowls with average or below-average quarterbacks, but no team has been able to be consistently great without one. The most important position in American sports today is the quarterback, and it isn’t close.
What this means for NFL organizations is unclear. Getting a top quarterback is of utmost importance, but most of it is luck. Many would like to believe their scouting can accurately predict who will turn out to be a great quarterback, but the examples of JaMarcus Russell, Ryan Leaf and Tom Brady all prove major mistakes by scouts.
Furthermore, no team has consistently drafted top quarterbacks, suggesting that getting a top guy is based mostly on random factors from a front office standpoint. If the most important thing is to get a good quarterback, and getting that player is based on luck, what can a team do?
Bill Parcells had the answer. He realized that while modern NFL offenses would become dependent on the quarterback, they had to focus on slowing quarterbacks down. How to do that was not clear, however. Did it mean a focus on star safeties, cornerbacks, or schemes? Lawrence Taylor gave him his answer.
Before 1986, the NFL did not record sacks. No one seemed to get that many, and it didn’t seem relevant. But after LT dominated the NFL, sacks were suddenly significant.
Taylor was constantly mauling quarterbacks, giving them no time to operate. No one knows exactly how many sacks Taylor got, but it was enough that the NFL decided to suddenly start counting for the next season. Parcells built the 3-4 defense around getting Taylor to the quarterback while sending blitzes from star linebackers like Harry Carson.
The New York Giants won two Super Bowls, and though Phil Simms is remembered as a star player, it was always the Giants defense carrying him. His passer rating was merely 74.6 in 1986, and he did not even play in the 1990 Super Bowl.
The Giants then doubled down on this theory, constantly drafting defensive ends and linebackers, nabbing Jessie Armstead and Michael Strahan. Though that defensive core never won a Super Bowl, they built a brilliant defense for many years and only lost the Super Bowl in 2000 because the Baltimore Ravens‘ defense was one of the greatest ever.
Then again, the modern Giants built around Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora. The 2007 season was a beautiful illustration of how the modern defense operates. The New England Patriots were undefeated, and seemingly unbeatable. The Giants were not the better team, but they were the only team that could beat the Patriots.
With three top pass rushers (Strahan, Osi, and Tuck), they could get to Tom Brady. Moving Tuck to defensive tackle to get more pressure worked perfectly and Tuck had two sacks and forced fumble on Brady. Truthfully, he should have won MVP.
Jason-Pierre Paul showed up in 2011, but it was truly Eli Manning’s development that won the Super Bowl for the Giants.
Still, no one since Lawrence Taylor came into the league has won more Super Bowls than the Giants. It not because they got lucky drafting Troy Aikman, Tom Brady, Joe Montana or Peyton Manning. It is because as an organization, they have solved modern defense conceptually. Sometimes, like last year, defensive ends fail to show up, but the Giants know it is through pass rushers that Super Bowls come.
Here’s to hoping the Giants can continue that trend.