Stat of the Day: Unbalanced Teams, 93-09

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

8 Re: Stat of the Day: Unbalanced Teams, 93-09

(Positive deltas indicate higher offensive DVOA.)

1994 SFO Off: +17.9%, Def: -10.1%, Delta: + 7.8%
1995 DAL Off: +30.1%, Def: + 0.2%, Delta: +30.3%
1996 GRB Off: +10.8%, Def: -24.3%, Delta: -13.5%
1997 DEN Off: +15.9%, Def: -10.3%, Delta: + 5.6%
1998 DEN Off: +30.7%, Def: + 1.8%, Delta: +32.5%
1999 STL Off: +12.4%, Def: -19.1%, Delta: - 6.7%*
2000 BAL Off: - 9.5%, Def: -26.3%, Delta: -35.8%**
2001 NWE Off: + 0.6%, Def: - 4.6%, Delta: - 5.2%***
2002 TAM Off: - 1.7%, Def: -32.1%, Delta: -33.8%
2003 NWE Off: - 0.6%, Def: -21.8%, Delta: -22.4%
2004 NWE Off: +24.6%, Def: -11.1%, Delta: +13.5%
2005 PIT Off: +10.8%, Def: -15.6%, Delta: - 4.8%
2006 IND Off: +29.0%, Def: + 8.8%, Delta: +37.8%
2007 NYG Off: - 0.3%, Def: - 2.1%, Delta: - 2.4%***
2008 PIT Off: + 3.7%, Def: -26.9%, Delta: -23.2%**

* Would you have guessed the 1999 Rams were ranked higher defensively (3rd) than offensively (4th)?
** The 2000 Ravens were actually ranked second in defensive DVOA, to the Titans. Also, how many people would have guessed that last year's Steelers had a better defensive DVOA than the 2000 Ravens?
*** The 2007 Giants and 2001 Patriots come out as the most balanced according to DVOA, but that's likely a function of both being relatively mediocre overall teams.

So among the Super Bowl winners in the DVOA era, the 2006 Colts are indeed the most offense-heavy team, followed by the 1998 Broncos and 1995 Cowboys. The 2000 Ravens are the most defense-heavy team, followed by the 2002 Buccaneers, 2008 Steelers, and 2003 Patriots. These are the only teams with absolute deltas over 20%.

10 Re: Stat of the Day: Unbalanced Teams, 93-09

I wonder if the '98 Broncos and '95 Cowboys also had significant regular season injuries that healed up come playoff time, a la Bob Sanders for the '06 Colts. Though they gave up a lot of points to New England in the AFC Championship, the other playoff games that season were relatively low-scoring affairs--though playing the Chiefs, Ravens, and Bears may have something to do with that as well.

18 Re: Stat of the Day: Unbalanced Teams, 93-09

The '98 Broncos did have one significant regular-season injury that healed up for the playoffs, but it was on the offensive side of the ball -- John Elway missed four starts that season. If you look at at the chart, the Broncos' delta is not because of a lousy defense, it is due to a superlative offense (even with 25% of the season being helmed by Bubby Brister) combined with a mediocre defense. The defense was actually quite healthy that year.

22 Re: Stat of the Day: Unbalanced Teams, 93-09

The overall AVG OFF DVOA from 1994 to 2008 is -1.3% with a SD of 14.4%; therefore, three teams (DAL 1995, DEN 1998 and IND 2006), won the Super Bowl with “great offenses,” and three (1994 SFO, 1997 DEN and 2004 NEW) won with “very good” offenses. (Great defined as more than 2 SD from the mean, very good 1 SD).

The overall AVG DEF DVOA from 1994 to 2008 is -1.7% with a SD of 10.9%; therefore, four teams (1996 GRB, 200 BAL, 2002 TAM, and 2008 PIT) won the Super Bowl with “great defenses,” and four (1999 STL, 2003 NWE, 2004 NWE, 2005 PIT) won with “very good” defenses.

The 2001 NWE and 2007 NYG are remarkable for being average on both sides of the ball, and the 2004 NWE team is notable for its achievement on both sides of the ball.

Without doing a similar comparison of the Super Bowl losers over this time, a cautious interpretation is that 53% of the time, having a very good to great defense wins, and 40% of the time, having a great offense wins. That’s close enough to be a toss up, but what it seems to truly suggest is that in order to win a Super Bowl, a team needs at least one “very good” unit and an at least average complimentary unit.

7 Re: Stat of the Day: Unbalanced Teams, 93-09

The 2000 Titans actually allowed 26 more points than the Ravens, but faced tougher offenses. The Titan allowed only 4.2 Yards per play, compared to the Ravens' 4.3 yards per play. The Ravens had the better run defense (2.7 yards per rush vs. 3.6 for Titans), but the Titans had the better pass defense (4.7 net yards per pass vs. 5.3 for Ravens).

The Titans also forced more fumbles (21 vs. 19), but recovered fewer of them.

A weird team though: In 1999 they were the 20th ranked defense, and in 2001 they were the 24th ranked defense. The only difference in 2000 it seems is that their front 7 stayed healthy the entire year, which was never the case in '99 or 01.

6 Re: Stat of the Day: Unbalanced Teams, 93-09

This Vikings fan thought the all defense version was more enjoyable to watch. If given a choice between a team which plays very physically, but lacks the offensive playmakers to win most of their games, and a team which has offensive playmakers who score a lot points, but otherwise gets pushed around on defense, and just misses the playoffs, I will take the former, because it is merely frustrating. The latter is disgusting.

21 Re: Stat of the Day: Unbalanced Teams, 93-09

I actually enjoyed the 2005 Bears more than the 2006 Bears in the regular season.

The defense knew they were the ones that had to win the games in 2005. They couldn't count on the offense for anything, and it seemed like they loved it. They were flying around and rarely letting other teams get even first downs.

Also, Orton wasn't nearly as bad as his numbers look (at least until the Packer's game. He was really bad in that game, and continued being really bad in the Falcon's game which lead to Grossman playing the 2nd half).

9 Re: Stat of the Day: Unbalanced Teams, 93-09

And the incredible thing is the Vikings from 2004 to 2006 made the transition from AOND to NOAD (all/no off/def acronyms) under the guidance of offensive coaches, Mike Tice (2004, 2005, former offensive line coach, former tight end) and Brad Childress (2006-, former Eagles offensive coordinator).

13 Re: Stat of the Day: Unbalanced Teams, 93-09

I'm really surprised the 2004 Bills didn't make that list. A #1 defense (Nate Clements, Takeo Spikes, and Sam Adams all in their prime) coupled with a #21 offense...and one of the best DVOA teams of the decade. Then in 2005 the defense just collapsed and they show up on the All-Special Teams list.

25 Re: Stat of the Day: Unbalanced Teams, 93-09

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