“Here’s a history lesson: the 2000 Baltimore Ravens defense was superior than this year’s Seattle Seahawks in nearly every way. In records. In attitude. And, yes, in the Super Bowl itself.”
- No player comparisons: Generalities about players are irrelevant because they are just opinion. Number of Pro Bowlers or Hall of Famers often reflects popular opinion more that actual talent. Should someone want to quantify the quality of each player at each position and aggregate the total talent, I would love to read it. Until then, we will look at the whole team performance.
- Relative > Absolute: A team that holds opponents to 11.4 points per game (ppg) sounds better than a team that holds opponents to 14.2 ppg. But when the average offense scored 15 ppg in the year of the first team and the average offense scored 27 ppg in the year of the second team, the judgment should shift. We will heavily slant toward how the team performed in the era/year in which they played. This will also help to account for rule changes.
- Quality of opponent matters: A team that has the best opponent scoring average in the league, and does it during a year when scoring is way up sounds dominant. But what if they played in the 2005 NFC West? Who you play, and how you perform against those opponents needs to be taken into account.
- Strength of offense: A defense that has to make up for a horrible offense gets extra credit. We will compare the offenses these defenses played with at a high level.
- Championships: It should not be the ultimate arbiter, but it does have to be factored in. A defense that ends the year as a champion deserves credit for the ultimate accomplishment, and one that fails in that game deserves additional scrutiny.
- Analysis versus facts: I will give my opinion at the end of each article about which defense was superior and why. You may come to a different conclusion. The facts should not be disputable. My interpretation of them is open to debate.
Round 1: Yards Allowed
|Team||League Avg Yards/Game||Opponent Yards/Game||Std Dev||League Rank|
The league averaged far more yards per game last season than they did in 2000, and that makes the Seahawks yardage total significantly more impressive when comparing relative numbers. Seattle has a sizable edge in standard deviation below the norm for that year. Looking at gross yards allowed gives an overview, but it is important to look at yards surrendered per play. A defense that is on the field longer because their offense cannot move the ball will face more plays and more total yards allowed. They should not be penalized for it.
|Team||League Avg Yards/Play||Opponent Yards/Play||Std Dev|
Even by this measure, the Seahawks were a far more stingy defense in yards surrendered, almost doubling up the Ravens standard deviation below the league average.
Round 2: Points Allowed
|Team||League Avg Points/Game||Opponent Points/Game||Std Dev||League Rank|
Baltimore allowed four fewer points per game than the Seahawks. That is a big difference. Only eight teams have allowed less than 10.3 ppg in a season, and none later than 1977. This is where comparing different teams from different eras can be difficult. Rules were different in 2000 than they are now. Players were different. Offenses were different. More points were scored in the NFL this year than in any year in NFL history. The average offense scored 23.4 ppg in 2013, compared to 20.6 in 2000. That is not to say it was without firepower. The Greatest Show On Turf was still going strong.
|Team||League Avg Points/Play||Opponent Points/Play||Std Dev|
Round 3: Schedule
|Team||Aggregate Opponents PPG||Opponent PPG||Std Dev|
The Ravens 16 regular season opponents scored an average of 17.4 points per game, about three points below the league average that year. One could guess that was because they faced the Ravens defense, but the Seahawks opponents averaged just under a point less than the league average. Still, it is worth looking at the standard deviation among those opponents. Maybe Seattle faced a couple power house offenses and then a bunch of weak sisters. That turns out not to be the case. Seattle has an even bigger advantage in scoring defense when regular season opponents are taken into account.
Let’s step away from the regular season for a moment though and just see how both teams did against the best offenses in the league that year. The best versus the best.
|Team||GMs VS TOP 10 OFF (incl playoffs)||+/- Opp Avg|
Baltimore faced four of the best offenses in the league, including the 2nd-ranked Broncos and 3rd-ranked Raiders in the playoffs. They held those two teams to a combined 6 points. The Seahawks faced the top-ranked, highest scoring offense in the history of football in the Super Bowl, and held them to 8 points. If this was versus the top eleven offenses instead of the top ten, the Seahawks would have had six games against those teams, compared to still four by Baltimore.
The Ravens performance in the playoffs was amazing, including holding the Giants offense scoreless in the Super Bowl (the only score was a kickoff return for touchdown). But the Ravens gave up a lot of points to the 8th-ranked Jaguars during the regular season, which helped Seattle collectively hold their elite offensive opponents far more below their average output.
It would be hard to give the Ravens any edge here in terms of quality of opponent and performance relative to that competition. Seattle wins this round as well.
Round 4: Takeaways
|Team||League Avg Takeaways/Game||Takeaways/Game||Std Dev||League Rank|
Both teams led their league in takeaways, but Baltimore comes out on top in this round both in absolute numbers and relative numbers. The gap is not wide (2.4 vs 2.3 standard deviations above norm), but it is pointing the Ravens direction.
Round 5: Offenses
|Team||OFF PPG||OFF PPG Rank||OFF YDS/GM||OFF YDS/GM Rank||TO/GM||TO/GM Rank|
The Seahawks offense scored more points, gained more yards and turned it over less than the Ravens offense. It was a better offense. But the advantage is not quite as wide as most might think. That shows up in the league rankings. Seattle was actually ranked lower than the Ravens in yards per game, and was slightly above in points scored. The Ravens offense, for all the derision it gets, was a league average offense that year. Seattle’s was slightly above league average, at least in scoring.