BY Steve Rudman 06:30AM 01/28/2015

Top defenses usually dominate in Super Bowl

A No. 1-ranked defense has appeared in the Super Bowl 10 times and come away with nine victories, including last year’s 35-point win by Seattle over the Denver Broncos.

Richard Sherman snags an interception in front of Davante Adams during the NFC Championship game. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

After losing Red Bryant and Chris Clemons in free agency, Brandon Mebane to a season-ending hamstring injury in Week 10, and Bobby Wagner for five weeks at mid-year, it seemed unlikely the Seahawks would duplicate last year’s feat of leading the NFL in total defense. But by allowing 39 points in their final six games, the Seahawks finished No. 1 again in fewest points (15.9) and yards (267.1) allowed, only the fourth franchise since the 1950s to do so.

En route, the Seahawks defeated two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning, survived a rare home loss to Pro Bowler Tony Romo, rallied four times in the fourth quarter or overtime, and held opponents without a fourth-quarter touchdown for six weeks.

“I can’t speak for anybody else, but I think this season has definitely been more rewarding than last year,” said Wagner. “I appreciate it a lot more because we have been through a lot. Everybody was facing injuries. We were having a lot more doubters than we were used to. You have to appreciate all the moments – the good, the bad, the ugly – and run with it. Teams definitely gave us their best shot, but we withstood it. We’re here now and those moments made us grow.”

“There are always going to be challenges because you have new people every year,” added DL Michael Bennett. “Everyone expected us not to be in the championship again, but we always expected to be right back here. We had great leadership and played great football over the last few weeks.”

The Seahawks are the first franchise in NFL history to send the league’s No.-1 ranked defense to the Super Bowl for two years in a row. The only other to twice send a No. 1 was Pittsburgh, the Steelers doing so in 2008 and in 1974. Pittsburgh won both games.

In the Super Bowl era, a No. 1 defense has appeared in the Super Bowl 10 times. Nine times the team with the No. 1 defense won, by an average of 18.5 points, a number inflated by Seattle’s 35-point victory last year over Denver:

Year Game Team YPG PA W/L Super Bowl Margin
1972 VII Dolphins 235.5 12.2 W Def. Wash 14-7 7
1974 IX Steelers 219.6 13.5 W Def. Minn 16-6 10
1977 XII Cowboys 229.5 15.1 W Def. Den 27-10 17
1982 XVII Dolphins 256.9 14.6 L L Wash 27-17 10
1985 XIX Bears 258.4 12.4 W Def. NE 46-10 36
1992 XXVII Cowboys 245.7 15.2 W Def. Buff 52-17 35
1996 XXXI Packers 259.8 13.1 W Def. NE 25-21 4
2002 XXXVII Buccaneers 252.8 12.2 W Def. Oak 48-21 27
2008 XLIII Steelers 237.2 13.9 W Def. AZ 27-23 4
2013 XLVIII Seahawks 273.6 14.4 W Def. Den 43-8 35

The only loss suffered by a team with a No. 1 defense occurred in 1982, when the season was reduced to nine games due to a labor dispute. Other than that, the team with the No. 1 defense has won by double digits seven times.

The key number

Aside from heaps of fluff (to say nothing of all the entertainment provided by Marshawn Lynch), especially the kind manufactured on Media Day, Super Bowl week is all about breaking down individual matchups, assessing offenses vs. defenses, rating the quarterbacks and delving into analytics.

Never does hype or deep statistical probes involve turnovers, odd since they often determine the outcome of games between evenly matched teams, and predictable since, well, they can’t be predicted.

Prior to last year’s Super Bowl, the major talking points had to do with how Denver’s No. 1-ranked offense would fare against Seattle’s No.-1 ranked defense. But a 43-8 avalanche by the Seahawks started with a safety and snowballed with an interception return TD and a special-teams TD – in other words, turnovers.

The Seahawks nearly blew the NFC championship 10 days ago against Green Bay with five turnovers — four interceptions and a fumbled kickoff return — but rallied to win by recovering an onside kick Green Bay should have had, and that tilted the game in Seattle’s favor.

Much of Seattle’s success the past three years stems from converting turnovers into points, such as Kam Chancellor’s pick-six TD against Carolina in the divisional round.

Since 2012, when the Seahawks first announced themselves as potential Super Bowl contenders, they are +51 in turnover differential, including regular and postseason. This won’t help with a Super Bowl prediction, but over the same span, the New England Patriots are also +51. No other team is close:

Team Coach 3-Yr. Rec. 2012 2013 2014 Total
Seattle Seahawks Pete Carroll 42-13 +14 +27 +10 +51
New England Patriots Bill Belichick 40-14 +23 +13 +15 +51
San Francisco 49ers Jim Harbaugh 35-18 +10 +11 +7 +28
Chicago Bears Marc Trestman 23-25 +20 +5 -5 +20
Green Bay Packers Mike McCarthy 33-19-1 +9 -2 +11 +18
Baltimore Ravens John Harbaugh 32-21 +15 -5 +3 +13
Carolina Panthers Ron Rivera 26-23-1 +1 +9 0 +10

“This is a stat that’s crucial,” Carroll emphasized earlier this week. “You can’t play successfully unless you have a lot of fundamental aspects of your game together. To have a football team that plays with this kind of focus and that kind of concentration, it crosses the entire gamut. Guys have to appreciate and understand what fundamentals in this game are all about.

“We want teams that play without mistakes and play with great intensity and focus and toughness. I would like to think we are very similar to New England in that regard.”

At +51 each, the Seahawks and Patriots couldn’t be more similar.


  • jafabian

    I feel as though this years SB is much like last years: great offense vs. great defense and defense wins every time. Also don’t see the Patriots WRs matching up well against the LOB. That will allow the Hawks to stack the line as needed. IMO their RB by committee approach will backfire on them. When the Hawks D gives their offense chance after chance to be on the field the points will come. A bit concerned about the Patriots secondary, especially the CBs. Browner could be the weak link. He did is usual superb coverage this past season but a telling point is that in 9 games he had 16 penalties called against him. If he and Thurmond didn’t get suspended last season I think Thurmond would have been starting. Brandon isn’t the player he was a couple years ago. Still to be respected though.

    The Patriots defense had the luxury this season of not facing many teams with a Pro Bowl caliber RB. That being said Knile Davis of KC had 107 yards against them, Stevan Ridley of Cincy 113 and a TD, Matt Forte of the Bears 114 yards, Eddie Lacy of GB 98 yards and Justin Forsett of the Ravens racked up 129 yards and a TD. I think this game will be the thorn in Beastmode’s side. He’ll have an amazing game, possibly get MVP and the press will be all over him.

  • Kevin Lynch

    Some really interesting stats and good reading! It looks like there’s no way New England can win…but, ah, maybe I’m off base but here are a few thoughts about the quarterbacks and situations taken from your second paragraph.

    The Hawks played four games against elite quarterbacks this year – Manning, Romo and Rodgers twice (counting the title game). All four games were played in Seattle, where the Seahawks have a huge advantage. Only one of those four games was won in regulation. The coin flip didn’t necessarily determine the game on the two overtime games but it helped.

    Sunday’s game is A. On the road. B. Against an elite quarterback. C. Against an elite coach. The combination of elite QB and coach is unusual. Seattle has that combination too, of course. The four wins in the last year against Manning and Rodgers were also wins against Coach Fox and Coach McCarthy. Denver’s Fox has had disastrous losses four years in a row in the playoffs, which is why he was fired. McCarthy played not to lose and blew a big lead. Belichick is a very different guy. I’m just sayin’….