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The Importance of "The Trench"

There is no more important place on the football field in terms of winning games than in the trenches. Full backs, Tight Ends, Tackles, Guards, Centers, Ends, Nose Tackles, Linebackers - this is where games are won and lost and, indeed, Championships are won and lost.

The massive knee-jerk reaction by a vast majority of Broncos fans - outside of MHR - believe that the Broncos absolutely must draft a wide receiver in the first round. The single biggest need on the football team is for a player that will touch the ball 5-8 times a game.

Never mind the fact that the Broncos lost the battle in the trenches week in and week out in the final ten games last season. The interior of the offensive line was blown up by opposing defenses, while the interior part of the teams defense was constantly shredded for big gains in the running game.

Weaknesses that not even the all-powerful Brandon Marshall and his record setting 21 catch game could overcome, nor Kyle Orton's 400+ yard day against the Chiefs in the season finale. Skill players can run amok all day long, but its the team that wins and loses in this league.

For my purposes today, I will be listing the trench rankings for every single participant in the Super Bowl since 1983. I am sure we can all agree that prior to that great year the game was different than it is today. For obvious reasons, I chose 1983 - it's a very important year in Broncos mythology.

On to the chart!

First let me explain how I ranked the trenches of each team and why. For both offense and defense there are just two stats that really show how well the lines performed in both the passing game and running game. For offense, I took the ranking for sacks allowed and average gain per rushing attempt. For defense, I took the ranking for sacks made and average gain per rushing against. Pretty simple. I wish I could have found stats for "pressures", which would be a better indicator than pure sacks, but I was unsuccessful.

Team Trench Rankings in the Super Bowl
Winner Offensive
Loser Offensive
Raiders 24th 16th 4th 3rd Redskins 6th 12th 6th 6th
49ers 2nd 2nd 11th 9th Dolphins 1st 14th 20th 3rd
Bears 14th 5th 3rd 6th Patriots 7th 14th 10th 5th
Giants 18th 12th 4th 5th Broncos 11th 21st 9th 13th
Redskins 5th 5th 4th 12th Broncos 10th 20th 23rd 24th
49ers 23rd 1st 12th 4th Bengals 9th 2nd 11th 22nd
49ers 19th 13th 8th 5th Broncos 17th 18th 5th 7th
Giants 7th 25th 25th 7th Bills 6th 8th 9th 6th
Redskins 1st 18th 3rd 11th Bills 15th 3rd 18th 15th
Cowboys 3rd 11th 13th 3rd Bills 6th 6th 12th 1st
Cowboys 4th 4th 20th 19th Bills 7th 22nd 14th 12th
49ers 18th 8th 7th 7th Chargers 12th 11th 3rd 12th
Cowboys 2nd 5th 15th 20th Steelers 4th 19th 9th 7th
Packers 19th 12th 11th 3rd Patriots 7th 28th 19th 4th
Broncos 11th 2nd 12th 30th Packers 3rd 11th 17th 21st
Broncos 6th 2nd 6th 8th Falcons 24th 10th 19th 2nd
Rams 7th 2nd 1st 6th Titans 3rd 17th 3rd 21st
Ravens 20th 9th 22nd 1st Giants 7th 19th 9th 3rd
Patriots 23rd 24th 14th 21st Rams 18th 1st 7th 11th
Buccaneers 23th 28th 4th 6th Raiders 15th 13th 8th 8th
Patriots 14th 30th 6th 6th Panthers 8th 18th 7th 14th
Patriots 5th 18th 3rd 11th Eagles 17th 8th 2nd 21st
Steelers 16th 13th 3rd 1st Seahawks 5th 4th 1st 4th
Colts 1st 17th 30th 32nd Bears 7th 23rd 9th 12th
Giants 12th 5th 1st 8th Patriots 5th 13th 2nd 27th
Steelers 29th 29th 2nd 2nd Cardinals 11th 31st 15th 11th
Saints 4th 6th 13th 27th Colts 1st 31st 17th 17th

Here are the averages for the Super Bowl winners:

Averages by Winner
Offensive Sacks Offensive AVG/Rush Defensive Sacks Defensive AVG/Rush
12th 12th 9th 10th

That really is a mixed bag of results, but by and large the Super Bowl winning team is Top 5 in something. I can also see where the term, "Defense wins Championships" comes from. With a few exceptions, the best trench defense wins the Super Bowl.

Since we are Broncos-centric here at Mile High Report, I'd like to point out how absurd it was that the Broncos ever made it to the Super Bowl in the 80's. It truly was a testament to John Elway's greatness. I don't know how the Broncos were ever favored against the Redskins in Super Bowl XXII. Also interesting is how overrated the 1989 San Francisco 49ers were.

I must admit, I expected a much higher correlation than I got. There were several teams with bad trenches, but excellent skill positions. The 49ers in the 80's and the Cowboys of the 90's fit that bill, however, most of the Super Bowl winners attained their success through winning the battle in the trenches all season long.

According to my research, the two best teams of the last 27 years were the 1998 Denver Broncos and the 1999 St. Louis Rams. They were the only two teams to have ranked in the Top 8 in every single category I studied. The best team to have lost the Super Bowl is easily the Seattle Seahawks of 2006. They actually ranked in the Top 5 in every category.

So what does this all mean? It means it takes a special player or offense to overcome a horrible trenches defense, and vice verse. However, the great all around teams have a great chance of bringing home the Lombardi Trophy than a lopsided team.

So before you lament the Broncos needs at a "skill" position. Look at their rankings in the trenches for the past four season.

Broncos Trench Stats 2006-2009
Year Offensive Sacks Offensive AVG/Rush Defensive Sacks Defensive AVG/Rush
2006 13th 9th 15th 18th
2007 16th 3rd 17th 31st
2008 2nd 4th 26th 31st
2009 16th 16th 10th 28th

Last year we saw the interior line suffer due to a switch from the Zone Blocking scheme to Power Blocking. The transition should be fairly complete by September, so hopefully these rankings will return to 2008 levels. The Broncos also so a marked improvement in their pass rush over what we have seen the previous three seasons. The poor run defense is unacceptable. These rankings must improve if the Broncos are every going to challenge for a Title again.

Which is why I don't understand the knee-jerk reactions about trading Brandon Marshall. We have bigger problems to worry about than some disgruntled, albeit talented, player who touches the ball an average of seven times a game.