Top Ten Single Season Defenses in NFL History : #6 1971 Baltimore Colts

One of the greatest defensive performances in NFL history happened in 1971. The defending Super Bowl champion Colts had the #1 defense and drug a struggling offense to the AFC Championship Game. They allowed the 2nd fewest yards per game mark in the NFL since 1970 with 203.7 yards. With only 140 points allowed, it would have been an NFL record had the ’69 Vikings not broken the ’68 Colts old scoring record of 144 with 133.

Bubba smith coming off the ball.

Bubba smith coming off the ball.

One interesting aspect of the ’71 Colts was how anemic their once great passing offense had become.  The 38 year old Unitas completed just 52.3% of his passes for 3 TDs and 9 interceptions. Earl Morrall, who was 37, fared no better with an even lower 50.3% with 7 TDs to 12 ints. They were 21st in passing offense and 12th overall making the defense work harder.

During the ’71 season the defense held 7 of their 14 opponents to 10 points or less. Including 5 of their first 6. Baltimore’s D recorded 3 shutouts and held their first playoff opponent to 3 points. In facing 5 top ten offenses that year, they were 4-1 and held two of those to 10 points or less. Yet why aren’t they remembered??

Now the media anoints others of that era and obscures this team…lets compare a few:

  • 1971 Baltimore Colts – #1 overall / 203.7 yds all. / 140 points given up / 28 int
  • 1971 Dallas Cowboys – #3 overall / 243.3 yds all. / 222 points given up / 26 int
  • 1972 Miami Dolphins – #1 overall / 235.5 yds all. / 171 points given up / 26 int
  • 1970 Minnesota Vikings – #1 overall / 200.2 yds all. / 143 points given up / 28 int
  • 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers – #4 overall / 261.5 yds all. / 162 points given up / 27 ints

Right now fans of the Doomsday Defense, The No Name Defense, and the Steel Curtain are saying to themselves ‘Its not all about stats”. Which is true until you realize this was a defending Super Bowl champion that made it back to the AFC Championship Game despite its offense. Had they won against Miami, they would have taken on the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl VI. Well that is who they beat in Super Bowl V to become champions in the first place.

Mike Curtis tackling Cliff Branch.

Mike Curtis tackling Cliff Branch.

Led by Pro Bowlers DE Bubba Smith, MLB Mike Curtis, LB Ted Hendricks, SS Jerry Logan, and FS Rick Volk, its amazing only Hendricks is in the Hall of Fame. Curtis definitely should be but when you think of Hendricks making the Hall that is primarily from his work with the Raiders.

This was the last hurrah for the Colts as everything came apart starting in 1972. That was the year owner Carroll Rosenbloom swapped franchises with Robert Irsay. Head Coach Don McCafferty fired, John Unitas sent to the bench and the run as an NFL elite team ended.

Yet a tremendous performance by the defense in 1971 allowed them to hang on for one more season.

Dedicated to the memories of Don McCafferty, Bubba Smith, & Carroll Rosenbloom

8 thoughts on “Top Ten Single Season Defenses in NFL History : #6 1971 Baltimore Colts

  1. I like your commentary-I remember that season well and that it ended for the Colts with a 21-0 shutout victory by the Dolphins in the second AFC Championship Game. Earl Morrall, who had come through every time the Colts needed him from his arrival in a trade with the Giants in the preseason of 1968, struggled that season. Unitas slowly worked his way back into the lineup, starting his first game of the ’71 season in November against the Dolphins in Miami (where the Colts would not win a football game until a 1976 MNF game in which Morrall made one of the last game appearances of his career). The great QB’s decline, however, was more evident in that season.
    It was clear the Colts’ offense missed Roy Jefferson, a key factor in the Colts’ 1970 championship season who was traded to the Redskins after a falling out with Rosenbloom. John Mackey had been factored out of the offense, perhaps because of his leadership of the NFL Players Association.

    But the Colts moved the ball on the ground in 1971 better than they had since the days of Alan Ameche, Lenny Moore and L. G. Dupre. Norm Bulaich had an outside shot to become the Colts’ first 1000 yard rusher before a season-ending injury against the Dolphins at Memorial Stadium in December. Tom Matte, coming back from a 1970 season in which he played only 2 games because of a knee injury, rushed for over 600 yards. Rookies Don McCauley and Don Nottingham were capable back-ups. The rookies, however, could not make up for the loss of Bulaich and Matte (who missed the ’71 AFC title game due to an injury in the previous week’s playoff victory against the Browns, the final posteason win for the Baltimore Colts). The absence of Bulaich and Matte laid bare all the more the Colts’ struggling pass offense in the title game.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: The Soul of The Game: “Mad Dog” Mike Curtis | Taylor Blitz Times

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