By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report
The Sunday games of this weekend’s NFL playoffs was a reminder that no matter how explosive your offense is during the regular season, the strength of your defense will ultimately determine how far you advance in the postseason.
Yes it’s that old cliché about defense winning championships, but in today’s games it was the defense that helped both the Baltimore Ravens and the New York Giants to clinch spots in next week’s conference championship games.
In Green Bay, the Packers (15-2) came into their NFC Divisional Playoff game with New York Giants (11-7) with the league’s highest scoring offense at 35 points per game. With quarterback Aaron Rogers, the league’s highest rated passer, under center this game was supposedly a mere formality on the road to defending their Super Bowl title.
But the Packers also have the league’s worst defense and Giants quarterback Eli Manning exploited it to the tune of 330 yards and three touchdowns on 21-of-33 passing. Perhaps the big back breaker came seconds before halftime when Manning hit Hakeem Nicks on a 37-yard touchdown pass to give the Giants a 20-10. Green Bay would come no closer than 10 points for the rest of the game. Nicks ran roughshod through the Packers secondary catching seven passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns.
On the defensive end, the Giants roughed up the Packers explosive offense by sacking Rogers four times and forcing four turnovers. It didn’t help that Green Bay receivers dropped numerous and if the Giants defense didn’t make the sack they forced Rogers to overthrow and under-throw his receivers.
“We just boosted it up a notch. We just came out here and played even harder and we just rose to another level,” said defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. “Our cornerbacks and safeties did well and our defensive line did a great job. That’s all that really counts. Everybody played as one.”
Throughout the 2011 season, the Packers simply outscored their opponents while ranking at the bottom of the league statistics in total defense and passing defense. The saving grace for the defense was that it had the best league’s best takeaway/giveaway percentage.
However, it was the Giants defense that came up big against the Packers high-powered offense. They held Rogers to under 50 percent passing. They were the ones forcing the turnovers and they slowed down the Packers offense.
If there was an MVP in this game, it was the physical Giants defense that dictated the outcome as well as the Packers 32nd ranked defense’s inability to stop Manning and the New York offense.
Meanwhile in Baltimore, the defense coming up big is a familiar story.
The Ravens jumped out to a 17-3 thanks to a pair of turnovers that gave the offense a short field to score touchdowns in the first quarter.
After the first quarter, the Ravens offense scored just three points for the rest of the game and managed just 227 yards of total offense. The Texans offense, thanks to the running of Arian Foster who gained 95 of his 132 yards in the first half, cut the Ravens lead to 17-13 and seemed to be on the verge of taking control of the game.
But in the second half, the Ravens held the Texans scoreless, forced two turnovers including a drive-killing interception by Ed Reed. Foster was held to just 37 yards on the ground in the second half.
“Defensively for us to come out and pretty much pitch a shutout that’s our standard of football,” Lewis said after the game. “You really have to take your hat off to our team.”
For all the talk of high-powered offenses like the Saints and the Packers dominating the 2011 season, you still need a solid defense to ultimately win a Super Bowl. For all the points and yardage those two teams racked up during the regular season, they are out of the playoffs because their defense failed to stop the other team’s offense.
Baltimore proved today that even when your offense is in a deep freeze, a good defense will not only keep in the game, it can also help you win it.