All units play a role in scoring and scoring prevention. Yes - offense mostly scores, defense mostly prevents them, and special teams does a bit of each, but each play their reciprocal role in the other's success. And when a non-defensive unit blows up, your points allowed column and defense takes shrapnel - and associative fan flak - no matter how well they played.
In football, unlike baseball, scoring and scoring prevention isn't just the province of each respective unit. Just as bad offense in basketball can lead to a fast break bucket going the other way, offensive turnovers and 3 and outs will eventually break a football defense.
If we accept that bad offense can sink team defense (specifically, point allowed metrics) and dynamic special teams and defense can fuel scoring, can good offense and special teams buoy defense?
At Texas, the answer seems to be yes. And though it's nice to be great on offense, good enough is all that's needed to take a significant jump in Ws and Ls when you play good defense overall.
Dive in with me.
A very simple defensive chart of our last three years on defense:
PA - points allowed
YA - yards allowed
YPP - yards per play
Over the last three years, the Longhorn defense has surrendered a disappointing 20.9 points per game. But that number is paired with a very solid 286 yards per game, 4.3 yards per play allowed. Excluding points allowed (a function of team defense, not pure defense), and adjusting for the growth of spread offenses in the Big 12 (apologies to '99-'01 defenses), this three year stretch represents arguably the best three year statistical run in the Mack Brown era.
If defense wins championships, why were the Longhorns 25-13 during that time period?
Lack of offense, right?
Partly. Every year, the SEC and Virginia Tech put up teams that can't move the ball and they still win 10+. The 1999, 2001 and 2002 Texas squads weren't dynamic on offense (very comparable to 2009/2010 yards per play outputs), but they didn't turn the ball over, played good defense, and won plenty.
Between, 2009-2011, the Texas offense turned the ball over 92 times. Offense failed not only as a driver of points, but in its role on team defense. It was downright subversive.
What the Texas defense surrendered in points allowed over the last three years doesn't make sense in correlation with yards allowed and yards per play. It's about 4 ppg higher than it should be. That's 156 points of carelessness distributed over 3 years, and over 2010/2011, it moved 4-6 games to the loss column. In 2009, it may have cost us a national title.
The Texas offense over the last three years was a concrete life preserver.
Compare the above to this:
By contrast, these three defenses from recent Longhorn history surrendered 322 yards per game and a 4.9 yards per play average - right at or above the Texas 14 year mean under Brown - but allowed only 17.7 points per game. In those three years, Texas boasted a 37-2 record. In comparison to 2009-2011, those defenses gave up more yardage and yardage per play, but scoring allowed was markedly less not only compared to Texas '09-'11, but to expected correlative outputs.
Offense and special teams were buoying team defense.
By now, you've probably made the connection that 2004, 2005, and 2008 represent the three best Mack Brown offenses of the last decade, while 2009, 2010, and 2011 represent the worst. Not only in terms of pure offensive output (glory years: 6.6 yards per play; inglorious: 5.4 yards per play), but crucially with respect to turnovers (glory: 52 turnovers, inglorious: 92 turnovers).
The 2009 Texas offense was actually the beginning of this trend, obscured in the average fan's memory by a national title berth and a deceptive scoring average. Straight up awful in most big games, with per play averages (5.6) much closer to Garrett Gilbert's 2010 Texas squad (5.4) and last year's injury riddled cluster (5.2) than our best vintage, and it took 9 non-offensive touchdowns, 37 forced turnovers, luck, and dominant defensive play to compensate.
So what does it mean for 2012?
Good things, if we stay healthy. Offense doesn't have to be great to help your defense. Texas offenses in '99, '01, '02 were thoroughly mediocre, but Texas still won plenty by not turning it over, and scoring non-offensive touchdowns in bunches.
The numbers suggest that a minimal therapeutic dose of offense (5.7 YPP, < 21 turnovers on the season) guarantees lots of winning when paired with a good defense and special teams play. Which feed your offense easy scores and an inflated scoring average.
Call it the minimal dose of unit reciprocity.
So, if we're predicting 2012 win totals, tell me how many points we give up per game in 2012 on defense. It will tell me all I need to know about the Texas offense.