D-Gaps: Defense wins championships

One year after the New Orleans Saints became the second team in league history to win the Super Bowl with a regular-season scoring defense ranked as low as 20th, championship-caliber defense is back in a big way.

The four teams still vying for the Lombardi Trophy all finished the regular season ranked in the top six in scoring defense. Since the merger, the only other season in which the league’s four semifinalists all ranked in the top six in scoring defense is 1972, when the Miami Dolphins allowed a league-best 12.2 points per game en route to a perfect season and the franchise’s first Super Bowl title.

Fewest PPG Allowed This Season

It’s not unusual to see one of the league’s top defenses advance this far into the postseason. Regardless of which team wins Super Bowl XLV, it will mark the 34th time a Super Bowl champion finished the regular season as one of the league’s six best scoring defenses. A top-six scoring offense has lifted the Lombardi only 29 times. (That number will not change since none of the four remaining teams ranked better than 10th in scoring during the regular season).

Steelers expose Ravens on both sides of ball but can’t stop Suggs

The Pittsburgh Steelers defense deserves the lion’s share of the credit for the team’s 31-24 win in the Divisional Playoffs after holding the Baltimore Ravens to a franchise-playoff low 126 yards. Prior to Saturday, the Ravens last failed to reach the 130-yard mark in a game in Week 9 of the 2007 season when they were held to 104 yards in a 38-7 loss to … you guessed it … the Steelers. Baltimore’s paltry yardage total is tied for the sixth-lowest by a team in the playoffs in the Super Bowl era.

While it’s tough to criticize the performance of a defense that allowed just 263 yards, forced a pair of turnovers and scored a touchdown, Baltimore’s normally stout unit showed signs of weakness against the Steelers, particularly on third down. The Ravens allowed the Steelers to convert four times on third down with 10 or more yards to go, including a 58-yard pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown on 3rd-and-19 that set up the game-winning score. It likely won’t be any comfort to Ravens fans that teams converted 15 times in 230 opportunities on 3rd-and-19 or longer during the regular season, a conversion rate of just 6.5 percent.

Terrell Suggs


One Ravens defender who deserves nothing but praise for his play in the divisional round is Terrell Suggs, who tied a franchise playoff record with three sacks. That brings Suggs’ career sack total against the Steelers to 15.5 (including playoffs). That’s more than any other player since sacks became official in 1982.

Williams’ game-changer paces Pack

Of all the plays the Green Bay Packers made in their blowout win over the Atlanta Falcons (and there were plenty), the one that really turned the game in the their favor was Tramon Williams’ 70-yard interception return for a touchdown on the final play of the second quarter that gave the Packers a 28-14 lead. According to www.advancednflstats.com, Williams’ pick-six boosted the Pack’s win probability from 70 percent to 90 percent.

Williams has three interceptions in two playoff games this season. With as many as two games remaining, he’s already one of 12 players in the Super Bowl era with three picks and a pick-six in a single postseason.