Anyone who watched yesterday's Wild Card Game turned Holiday Bowl between Green Bay and Arizona would be surprised to learn that Green Bay's defense was the #2 ranked overall defense in the NFL during the 2009 regular season.
Or maybe you wouldn't be surprised by that stat, given that the media trotted it out there with regularity when previewing the game.
How do they do those rankings? By counting the number of players who have hair spilling out from under their helmets? (In that case, Green Bay would be the #1 defense).
No, the official stat in determining "overall defense" in the NFL is yards per game by the opponent. Green Bay gave up an average of 284.4 yards per game, which is impressive.
However, if you dig a little deeper into the numbers, it's pretty clear that these stats are skewed pretty heavily by a couple of dominating defensive efforts (or pathetic offensive efforts, depending upon your point of view).
Since the NFL is a quarterback's league, I thought it made the most sense to divide the season between opponents with Pro Bowl quarterbacks (i.e. QBs who have made a Pro Bowl) and opponents with non Pro Bowl quarterbacks. This isn't perfect, because, for example, it puts Seattle in the Pro Bowl QB category and Baltimore in the non Pro Bowl QB camp, but it still works in proving the point.
Green Bay played 8 games against Pro Bowl QBs: Jay Cutler (2), Carson Palmer, Brett Favre (2), Tony Romo, Ben Roethelisberger, and Matt Hasselbeck.
Green Bay played 8 games against non Pro Bowl QBs: Rams QB, Detroit QB (2), Cleveland QB, Tampa QB, San Francisco QB, Baltimore QB, and Arizona QB (in a meaningless game in which Warner hardly played).
Yards per game against Pro Bowl QBs: 340 yards
Yards per game against non Pro Bowl QBs: 229 yards
Included in the non Pro Bowl QB games were a couple of masterful offensive performances by Detroit (149 yards gained in the game at Green Bay) and Cleveland (139 yards gained).
If you want to look at points per game, Green Bay gave up almost 23 ppg against Pro Bowl QBs and just under 15 ppg against non Pro Bowl QBs.
So what the hell does this prove? Jeez, Ted, you're telling me that Green Bay's defense has a harder time stopping offenses with competent quarterbacks than incompetent ones? How surprising! Time to submit this sucker to the Blog Post Hall of Fame!
No, all I am saying is that sometimes statistics like "#2 overall defense" can be misleading, especially if you are dealing with a small 16-game sample size. Was Green Bay's defense better this year under the 3-4 as compared to the horrible defense of the year before? Absolutely yes. They caused a ton of turnovers, were dominant at times, and seemed to have a clue for much of the year.
Does Green Bay's defense have a lot of work to do? Absolutely yes. The injury to Al Harris didn't help (in that it caused Jarret Bush to see the field again) but you're going to have an injury to deal with now and then. It's pretty clear that this defense is very vulnerable against the more elite quarterbacks in the league...it's just lucky that Green Bay didn't have to face more of them this year.