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Column: Football Playoffs

Bill Stafford | Sports Columnist | 01/26/2011

Playoff football is in full swing and the match ups this week bring up some interesting questions about play calling in recent history.

As northern Minnesotans, most of us who grew up either watching or playing football at any level, know full well that establishing a running game and playing tough defense is the only true way to play the game. “What’s a pass?” was a common question when I went through my high school football system and I can only assume that other northern schools had the same experience.

Many sports fans, coaches, and players disagree however, they argue that a pass happy, over-finesed and articulated offense wins championships, not a dominant running game and staggering defense. So who’s right?

As I’m writing this column, I’m mourning my Chicago Bears loss against the Green Bay Packers. Congrats Cheeseheads, but something good can come from the game. Aaron Rodgers had four passes for 22, 26, 22 and 21 yards in the Pack win and ended up 244 yards on 17 completions. The Bears struggled to get their run first offense started, but continued to play tough defense throughout. Today, the air ball won, which was a surprise given the cold and slick conditions at Soldier Field.

Offensive performances like the Packers’ were made famous by teams like the 1985 San Fransisco 49ers, and the 1993 Dallas Cowboys. The term “West Coast Offense” was sparked by a comment by then New York Giants Head Coach Bill Parcells after beating the ‘85 49ers, criticizing the strategy.

Needless to say, the term stuck, and so did the offense. According to a 2010 study by www.advancednflstats.com, “elite” NFL teams such as the Packers, Colts, Patriots and New Orleans all have a high passing success rate. Other playoff teams like the Bears, Falcons and Eagles all have a higher success rate running the ball. It should be noted that all of the latter mentioned teams are eliminated from the playoffs.

Another offensive playbook choice is possibly the most used offense in high school, college and the pro’s today — the spread offense. The first usage of that offense was by Rusty Russel, a orphaned boys home and school coach from Texas. The boys he coached were often out-matched and out-sized, so he designed an offense to spread the field vertically with multiple wide receivers to open the running game.

I’m aware that I’m not answering my own question completely with these arguments, but can come to the conclusion that in recent history passing the ball wins championships, not defense. It will always be old school vs. new school, but at the end of the day best team, no matter what strategy they use, will raise the Lombardi Trophy.