14 Jan 2010
As part of our ongoing Stat of the Day series, we're digging deep into our spreadsheets to run a new stat every weekday until Super Bowl XLIV. That means not just 2009 numbers, but historical numbers. Today, in honor of the (final, we think) retirement of Junior Seau, we're going to revisit the most unbalanced teams in our database: those with the biggest gap between rank in offensive DVOA and rank in defensive DVOA.
1998 San Diego Chargers (2nd defense, 30th offense): A few years ago, I did an article for ESPN on the worst quarterback seasons of all-time, and the 1998 Chargers showed up on the list twice: once for Craig Whelihan's awful half-season, and once for Ryan Leaf's even worse half-season. The offense and special teams (29th) were so bad that this team finished 5-11 despite a great defense that featured Seau, Rodney Harrison, Marco Coleman, and William Fuller. The Chargers were 18th in points allowed because the defense was always playing in horrible field position. By the way, this disaster was coached by two offensive-oriented head coaches: Kevin Gilbride and, when he was fired at midseason, June Jones.
2002 Carolina Panthers (3rd defense, 30th offense): In John Fox's first year as head coach, the Panthers moved up 18 spots in our defensive rankings -- and just one in our offensive rankings -- compared to 2001. In 2003, they added Stephen Davis, Jake Delhomme, and Jordan Gross, the offense improved, and they went to the Super Bowl.
2005 Chicago Bears (1st defense, 28th offense): This team somehow dragged a horrible rookie Kyle Orton into the playoffs.
2001 Cleveland Browns (3rd defense, 30th offense): Under new head coach Butch Davis, the Browns had the same offensive rank as the year before but skyrocketed from 25th to third in defensive DVOA. The best player was linebacker Jamir Miller, who had his first Pro Bowl season -- then tore his Achilles in the 2002 preseason and never played again.
Also: 1998 Raiders (3/29), 2006 Vikings (5/31), 1999 Ravens (1/27), 2003 Ravens (1/27), 1999 Eagles (4/30).
2008 Denver Broncos (2nd offense, 31st defense): We all remember how bad the Broncos defense was down the stretch last year, right? Like the 1998 Chargers, this team was also pitiful on special teams (31st).
1996 Baltimore Ravens (1st offense, 29th defense): The idea of a Baltimore team that's all-offense seems ludicrous, but this was Ray Lewis' rookie season and nobody else from the 2000 Super Bowl defense had shown up yet. The offense led the league in DVOA even though the only Pro Bowl choice was Vinny Testaverde.
2002 Kansas City Chiefs (1st offense, 29th defense) and 2004 Kansas City Chiefs (2nd offense, 30th defense): Basically the same team, the Trent Green-Tony Gonzalez-Priest Holmes show. The 2003 team also led the league in offensive DVOA with poor defense (25th).
Also: 1997 Bengals (3/30), 2000 Vikings (4/31), 2004 Vikings (5/32), 2000 Rams (1/27).
2005 Buffalo Bills (1st special teams, 30th offense, 26th defense).
2009 Cleveland Browns (1st special teams, 24th offense, 30th defense).
If you want an example of just how fast things change in the NFL, consider that the Minnesota Vikings went from "all offense, no defense" to "all defense, no offense" in just two seasons between 2004 and 2006.
29 comments, Last at 17 Sep 2011, 4:22am by themselves
Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?