The 2011 Alabama defense was clearly the best in college football, and many have debated if it was the best ever. They led the nation in all of the major categories, and most of the minor ones. Article after article has been written comparing it to some of the great defenses of the past. So, after losing three first round draft picks, a high second round pick, and three other starters, how much of a slide have we taken? Statistically speaking, the answer through week 6 is "none at all".Here's a side-by-side comparison of the two defenses in the five major categories after 6 weeks of the respective seasons.
Alabama Defensive Averages Through Week 6
Now to be fair, the 2011 stats contain one more game since we hadn't yet had our bye at this point last year. But it's still amazing just how similar the numbers are; virtually identical except for the split between rushing and passing yards.
So what gives? Surely we haven't lost so much talent to the NFL and not skipped a beat, have we? We must have faced weaker offenses this year, right?
Alabama's Opponent Offensive Averages
(Team-by-team comparison here. Linked spreadsheet also has averages excluding games against Alabama. Please comment with any corrections you may find. )
Our opponents averages thus far exceed our first 6 opponents last year in all five offensive categories. So, to what can we attribute this to? I don't have an answer. I just can't bring myself to believe that the best defense I've seen in my lifetime has now been equaled the very next year, but I only have guesses as to why the 2012 defense compares so favorably with the 2011 unit statistically. I wish I had time to explore the yards per play for each defense, but I just don't this week and I'd like to post what I have this week while it's still current. I know that we've generated a lot more turnovers this year than last, so maybe that's keeping our total number of plays defended low. Is our offense controlling the ball longer this year, also giving opponents fewer plays? Last year's total plays defended was pretty low though just because of how many three-and-outs we forced. Maybe our opponent's opponents are weaker defensively than their counterparts last year, inflating the opponent's offensive averages? Seems unlikely, but it could be part of the answer.
In the end though, five/six games is a small sample size and I will be surprised if this year's defense maintains the 2011 pace. It will be interesting though to see how the trends develop as we face offenses like UT and aTm down the road.