The old cliché says that "defense wins championships." But it really should say "Pass defense wins championships."
In fact, the 2010 season proved once again that our critical Defensive Passer Rating Quality Stat is one of the most important indicators in all of sports.
The NFL is all about the passing game. And it always has been, at least since the dawn of the T-formation in the 1940s, which made the quarterback the centerpiece of the offense.
Great offenses are those that pass effectively. And great defenses are those that make life hell on opposing quarterbacks. You can talk about "establishing the run" and "stopping the run" all you want, but history proves it's all about the passing game.
Super Bowl XLV provided plenty of evidence.
You already knew that Green Bay and Pittsburgh boasted great, efficient, productive passers. Aaron Rodgers is the highest-rated passer in NFL history (98.4). Ben Roethlisberger is far more prolific than anybody gives him credit for: he's No. 5 in career average per attempt (8.04) and No. 8 in career passer rating (92.5), just one spot ahead of – gasp! – Joe Montana (92.3) on the all-time list.
But more importantly, both teams dominated on pass defense, too. The Super Bowl champion Packers finished the year No. 1 in Defensive Passer Rating. The Super Bowl runner-up Steelers finished the year No. 2 in Defensive Passer Rating.
And Super Bowl XLV turned almost predictably on a single play in the passing game: safety Nick Collins of Green Bay's top-rated pass defense hauled in a bad pass from Big Ben, who was under a heavy rush, and returned for a game-changing pick-six that gave the Packers a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.
There was a lot of football to be played. But the outcome of the game was written in statistical stone: every team that's recorded a pick-six in a Super Bowl has won the game.
The 2010 season was no fluke for Defensive Passer Rating. Throughout history, teams that dominate in Defensive Passer Rating dominate on the field. The Steelers and Packers continue the trend.
In fact, the dynastic histories of both the Packers and Steelers prove the importance of the passing game in general and Defensive Passer Rating in particular.
The 1960s Packers paired a consistently great pass defense with Bart Starr, the highest-rated passer in postseason history. The result of great passing offense and great passing defense was an unprecedented five NFL championships (and two Super Bowl victories) in seven years.
The Packers led the NFL in Defensive Passer Rating in 1962 (43.4), 1965 (48.2), 1966 (46.1) and 1967 (41.5). They won NFL titles all four seasons. They finished second in Defensive Passer Rating in 1961, their first championship year of the Lombardi Era.
The 1970s Steelers paired a consistently great pass defense with Terry Bradshaw, one of the great big-game gunslingers of all time. Bradshaw averaged a mind-boggling 11.1 ypa in the Super Bowl. The result was an unprecedented four Super Bowl victories in six years.
The Steelers led the NFL in Defensive Passer Rating in 1972 (47.0). It's no coincidence that the 1972 season was highlighted by the very first postseason victory in franchise history (the Immaculate Reception win over the Raiders).
The 1973 Steelers were even stingier, with a 33.1 Defensive Passer Rating -- the best pass defense in modern history.
Quarterbacks could do nothing against Mean Joe Greene & Co. that year: completing just 46 percent of their passes with 11 TDs and an incredible 37 interceptions. The 1973 Super Bowl champion Dolphins, by the way, were No. 2 in Defensive Passer Rating (39.9) and allowed just five touchdown passes all year (against 21 picks). Wow! Times have changed.
But Pittsburgh struggled to pass the ball well on offense in 1973 (Bradshaw played poorly) and the season ended with a playoff loss to the Raiders.
So the Steelers stocked up in the passing game in 1974 with the greatest draft class of all time. They added Hall of Fame receivers John Stallworth and Lynn Swann on offense, and Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Lambert on defense. Pittsburgh was off to the races, led by a Steel Curtain defense that consistently made life tough for quarterbacks.
The Steelers led the NFL in Defensive Passer Rating in 1974 (44.3) and 1979 (56.4) and were high among the league leaders in 1975 (42.8) and 1978 (51.8). They won Super Bowls all four years.
In 2010, we learned that the more the game changes, the more it stays the same.