Championship Tenet or Myth?

The Vikings have proved they can run the ball and stop the run, but is that really what it takes to win the Super Bowl? Recent history appears to indicate otherwise.

The top two concerns among NFL coaches have always been establishing the run offensively and stopping the run defensively. It has always been a mantra of coaches and, when they talk about winning championships, that's what they talk about.

However, is that actually the case? The Vikings led the NFL in both categories – rushing offense and rushing defense – in 2007 and finished at .500. And to look back at the Super Bowl champions of this decade, it would seem those tenets of the game haven't consistently applied.

The only Super Bowl champion is this decade that truly defined those principles of running the ball and stopping the run were the Baltimore Ravens that won Super Bowl XXXV. With a thumping defense that made opposing offenses one-dimensional and a run-based offense that went a full month without scoring an offensive touchdown during its title run, the Ravens were "old school" in that regard. But what about the rest of the champions in that stretch?

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers that won the Super Bowl XXVII did so with Michael Pittman and Mike Alstott as their primary backs during their title run – good players, but far from great. The Rams that won Super Bowl XXXIV had a great running back in Marshall Faulk, but their offense wasn't the Greatest Show on Turf because Faulk could run the ball between the tackles consistently. They won because they put the ball in the air early and often and Kurt Warner was league MVP.

The Patriots won two of their Super Bowl titles with a non-descript running game and a third with plodding Corey Dillon as their primary running threat. It could be argued that the Steelers team that won Super Bowl XL did so on the strength of its running game, but the team was far from dominant in that regard, as well as stopping the run. Willie Parker and Jerome Bettis could each do their share of damage in the running game, but when rating the RBs of the time, neither of them were at the top of the list.

When the Manning brothers won their Super Bowls, they did so by breaking the mold that has been set. The Colts defense was viewed as being soft because teams could run so easily on them – so much so that a lot of the gambling smarts were willing to put money on Kansas City in their first-round playoff game for just that reason. The Patriots offense was a two-headed beast that included Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes. In the years that the Colts had Edgerrin James, they never went to a Super Bowl, much less won one. Peyton Manning was the catalyst to the offense and proved you win with a strong running game, but a stronger passing attack.

The same was true with the Giants' Super Bowl run of last year. The G-Men had the combination of Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, neither of whom were dominating runners that could be counted on for 20-25 carries every game. It was a pass-rushing, ball-hawking defense and ball control on offense that made the Giants a champion. Perhaps even more unnerving to the conventions of running and stopping the run were the Patriots. For long stretches during a season that began 18-0, the Patriots would completely abandon the run. Tom Brady would throw pass after pass after pass while Laurence Maroney was on the sideline waiting to come in. The Pats learned (perhaps from their 2006 Monday night blowout of the Vikings), that you can beat teams with powerful run defenses by simply throwing every down.

While the Patriots were unable to complete their perfect season in the playoffs, they have continued to debunk the myth that, in order to win in the NFL, you need to run the ball a lot and stop the run on defense. It would seem that just isn't true. Championships can be won by teams with "soft" defenses as well as teams with pedestrian running games. It is the combination of run offense and run defense that have the Vikings believing they can be playing in February, but it would seem clear that, for the last decade anyway, having those two qualities don't necessarily make you a champion. In fact, just the opposite might be the case.

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