Top Ten Single Season Defenses in NFL History : #1 1985 Chicago Bears

This is The Chancellor of Football’s choice for the NFL’s greatest single season defense and there is a serious gap between #1 and the #2 Baltimore Ravens. We’ll cover why at the end of this article. However welcome to the perfect storm of dynamic personnel, innovative defensive tactics and an intensely focused unit. One interesting aspect of the 1985 Chicago Bears performance is they did so without ’84 All Pro Safety Todd Bell who held out that season.

Defensive Coordinator Buddy Ryan was also carried off after Super Bowl XX.

Defensive Coordinator Buddy Ryan was also carried off after Super Bowl XX.

This was the era of the 46 Defense of Buddy Ryan. A Nickle defense where DBs were substituted for more athletic linebackers which allowed Ryan to use it as an every down formation. He could spring it on a team at any time without substitution.

Contrary to misinformed sportswriters he had been using the defense since 1981. Considering he named the formation for the number Safety Doug Plank wore which moved him into a Linebackers position. Plank’s last full season was 1981 and was replaced by Bell in 1982.

The 46 covered the Guard, Center, Guard which kept the MLB from being blocked. Furthermore if either the Center or Guard pulled, a DLineman would be in the backfield to disrupt any running play.

The 46 covered the Guard, Center, Guard which kept the MLB from being blocked. Furthermore if either the Center or Guard pulled, a DLineman would be in the backfield to disrupt any running play.

Although this formation gave the Bears an edge over their competition they only used it 30-40% of the time. It was the element of surprise that caught the NFL off guard. What is overlooked is how great the personnel fit every scheme Ryan used. In 1984, this group set the NFL record for sacks with 72. After he departed they set the record for fewest points allowed in 1986 yielding 187 points. It’s the season in between, 1985, that was their crowning achievement.

Take a look at a few stats:

  • #1 overall ranking
  • #1 against the run #3 against the pass
  • #1 in turnovers w/ 54 forced
  • #1 in interceptions w/ 34
  • #1 in passer rating allowed w/ 51.4
  • #1 in points allowed: 198 for the season
  • #1 in 1st downs allowed per game: 14.8
  • #1 in opp. completion percentage allowed 47.7%
  • #1 in touchdowns allowed w/ 23
  • #1 in rushing touchdowns allowed w/ 6

Now add to the fact they were #3 in sacks with 64, #3 against the pass giving up yardage in garbage time with blowout leads. It was the venomous way they attacked strong competition that makes this defense the valedictorian of NFL units.

Look at the competition they faced and look what they did to them. In 1985 the NFC East champion Cowboys (10-6) were trounced 44-0, the wildcard Giants (10-6) 21-0 in the playoffs, and the 10-6 Redskins slaughtered 45-10. Outscoring them 110-10 when they were the “best division in football” yikes!! Then you have the NFC West Champion LA Rams (11-5) killed 24-0 in the NFC Championship, and the last wildcard team? The defending champion San Francisco 49ers (10-5-1), who were pounded 26-10 in Candlestick.  Funny thing was the 49er touchdown was a Carlton Williamson interception, so the 49er offense scored 3 at home.

* So the Bears gave up 20 points combined to the 5 best teams in their conference and avg. more than 4TDs margin of victory (31-4 avg. score)…damn! All were 10 win teams.

Then of course each division faces another division in the other conference which in the 85 Bears case was the AFC East.  Thank God they didn’t play my Bills… The AFC East champion Dolphins won 38-24, but both wildcards in the AFC went to the Jets and Patriots.  What happened to those teams you ask?  The Jets (11-5) were clobbered in the Meadowlands 20-6 and the Patriots (11-5) twice. The Bears beat the Patriots 20-7 in week 2, then the 46-10 smashing in Super Bowl XX.

*So the only loss was to defending AFC Champion Miami & where did the Dolphins season conclude?  They lost the AFC Championship at home to the Patriots where had they won there would have been a rematch with the Bears in the Super Bow. So you could say that they were a pretty strong team…fair to say? The Bears beat EVERY playoff team in 1985 from the NFC, and faced three from the AFC…all teams had 10 wins or more and the Bears basically laughed at ’em.  This is what a heavyweight champion should look like!!

They were 4-1 against top 10 offenses and in those 4 wins held each team to less than 10 points. In fact, the ’85 Bears held 11 of their 16 opponents to less than 10 points and recorded back to back shutouts over the Falcons and Cowboys. In the playoffs they set another record not allowing a point in back to back playoff shutouts to make it to Super Bowl XX. Once there they set records for holding the Patriots to -19 yards at the half, 7 yds rushing for the game, record 7 sacks, and allowed the fewest yards in Super Bowl history with 127.

This second look shows a few plays from the 46 front look but the final play with Steve McMichael’s sack was one of the secrets of the ’85 Bears. They lined up in a 3-4 and had DE Richard Dent the rushing weakside ‘backer a la Lawrence Taylor. Ironically the 46 defense didn’t die it evolved into teams running it from 3-4 alignments and not 4-3 alignments as Buddy Ryan originated this from. If you’ve watched the Steelers over the last 15 years they have used DEs that were built like DTs and would squeeze them down to cover the Guard,Center, Guard and position an Inside Linebacker right next to the Strong side Linebacker. They just made it interchangeable in elements to surprise their opponents from time to time.

They had NFL Defensive Player of the year and Hall of Famer Mike Singeltary, All Pro Gary Fencik, Hall of Fame DEs Richard Dent and Dan Hampton. Pro Bowl Linebacker Otis Wilson and OLB Wilber Marshall who should be in the Hall of Fame.

In 2000 when the Ravens gave up 165 points and the question was raised- “Were they better than the ’85 Bears defense?”  HELL NO!!! The Ravens didn’t face 1984 MVP Dan Marino, 3-time Super Bowl MVP Joe Montana, Super Bowl MVP Phil Simms, 1983 MVP Joe Theismann, and Danny White was a pro bowl quarterback as was Ken O’Brien of the Jets. ALL WERE IN THEIR PRIME!  Had the 2000 Ravens seen these quarterbacks they give up another 150 points easy and wouldn’t make the mythical Super Bowl if they played the 85 Bears schedule!!

Spurgeon Wynn. Who?? Spurgeon Wynn, Tim Couch, Anthony Wright, Kent Graham, Gus Frerotte, Brian Griese, Ryan Leaf, Scott Mitchell, and Akili Smith were some of the QBs those Ravens faced so….no way do they get this nod. I loved those Ravens don’t get me wrong, but what would the ’85 Bears have given up against the 2000 Ravens schedule? That’s frightening to think about.

The best ever defense from the historian view of The Chancellor of Football’s view was the 1985 Chicago Bears hands down. How badly they trounced sound competition has resonated for decades. In compiling this list every #1 defense from 1960 to the present was used, every championship defense, and every record setting defense with the nod going to those that played since the merger in 1970. Hundreds of defenses boiled down to the 1985 Bears sitting atop as the best.

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The Beta Quarterback

Then you have Tony Romo. Sigh…. Do you realize he was on the cusp of NFL history?? Had he driven the Cowboys to the Bronco 32 yard line on that last drive, he would have broken Norm Van Brocklin’s 554 yards passing record that has stood for 7 decades!! Is it unfair to judge him as a “choke artist” as many fans have come to think of him as?? At what point does the Dallas Cowboy defense need to come up and make a play?? Yet the truth of the matter is Romo threw the critical interception at the critical time. It will be his history no matter what he has or will accomplish. The path of the Beta quarterback.

Taylor Blitz Times

When you look at life from a psychological standpoint, you have leaders and you have followers. Well in the Taylor Blitz Times lexicon of NFL football describing the quarterback position, you have the alpha and the beta. The alpha infuses confidence in his football team through his leadership and play. His teammates are inspired through his verve, spirit, and fight which in turn raises their level of play to meet his.  You can see the confidence in their eyes when the game is tight. This is what every coach wants and covets each year in the NFL draft. He doesn’t shrink when games are on the line or when the team is up against a superior opponent.

Then you have the beta quarterback that many teams seem to be afflicted with. He comes through with the physical gifts that scouts and coaches can see where he can improve, and can…

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Special Teams: Alone, Can They Win You An Important Game??

FS Derron Cherry was the centerpiece of this secondary who was voted 5 times All Pro and a 6 time Pro Bowler…

How often do you hear NFL, collegiate, or even high school football coaches say that “Special teams is a third of the game”?? Then rarely use their special teams as more than a field position element of the game. Aside from the Chicago Bears of recent years with Devin Hester, very few use their special teams as a weapon. Nor do most teams use their superstars on this third unit. Well in 1986, the Kansas City Chiefs fielded the best special teams and they were powered by the “Million Dollar Secondary” which was one of the best in NFL history. Safeties Derron Cherry and Lloyd Burruss coupled with the great cornerback tandem of Kevin “Rock” Ross and Albert Lewis manned the last line of defense.

You have to remember these were dark times for a once proud franchise. Not since the Christmas Day 1971 game of Ed Podolak in the longest game ever played vs the Dolphins, had the Chiefs participated in postseason play. Nothing was really expected of the ’86 version as well. There was an impasse at quarterback where the team went back and forth between quarterback’s Bill Kenney and Todd Blackledge with moderate success. They ran the football by committee between ex Browns Boyce Green and Mike Pruitt and as the season was concluding was down to KR Jeff Smith running the football. Smith’s real claim to fame was the National Championship upset where the Miami Hurricanes upset Nebraska, 31-30 in the ’84 Orange Bowl. It was Smith (Mike Rozier’s backup) who scored the final touchdown before the fateful two point attempt. Aside from Stephone Paige who once held the NFL record with 309 receiving yards in a game, none of these players were of distinction or Pro Bowl performers.

However there was hope in the #4 rated defense in the NFL that kept games close and special teams coach Frank Gansz utilized the best players on the team. This included Pro Bowlers Cherry, Burruss, and NT Bill Maas. Albert Lewis was a master at blocking punts as well. Cherry was All Pro at safety, having picked off 9 passes, to share that distinction with Ronnie Lott. Strong safety Lloyd Burruss (5int.s) enjoyed his best season in 1986 leading the NFL in both int. return yards 193 and touchdowns with 3. In fact it was Burruss with 2 interception returns for touchdowns against eventual AFC Champion Denver in week 14, that put the Chiefs in position to make the playoffs. It was this 37-10 victory that allowed the Chiefs to control their destiny with an 8-6 record. A win the following week against the Los Angeles Raiders set the Chiefs up for a do or die game in Pittsburgh to make the playoffs.

…as was 4 time Pro Bowl CB Albert Lewis.

What took place was one of the oddest games in NFL history in one regard, and one where a team taught everyone what it meant to use their special teams as a weapon. The Chiefs defense actually had one of it’s worse games of the year as they allowed 515 yards to Mark Malone and the Steeler offense. It was actually the Chiefs special teams fault they gave up so many yards. However they kept the Steelers out of the endzone for much of the day.  Of course the Chiefs offense disappointed only gaining 171 yards with the football. So what happened??

They took control in the 1st quarter when they had the Steelers backed up near their own goal line. Where most teams set up for a midfield return, Gansz and the Chiefs attacked. Cornerback Albert Lewis flew in from the wing to block the punt which was recovered by Derron Cherry in the endzone to take a 7-0 lead, silencing Three Rivers Stadium. Funny thing was had Lewis not blocked the punt, Lloyd Burruss would have as they crisscrossed right in front of the punter. After trading field goals in the 2nd quarter, Boyce Green returned the subsequent kickoff 97 yards to extend the Chief lead to 17-3. A team with less than 100 yards of total offense had nearly a two touchdown lead in a game they needed to make the playoffs. Go figure…yet before the Steelers could get to halftime and make adjustments their offense raced downfield to narrow the score following another field goal.

The Steelers were in position for a Gary Anderson field goal to bring Pittsburgh to within a touchdown. The crowd would be back in the game and with the Steelers defense totally stifling the Chiefs offense, the game would turn in the second half right?? Well not quite. Pro Bowl Nose Guard Bill Maas charged through two Steeler linemen and blocked the kick. Lloyd Burruss snatched the loose ball and sailed 78 yards to an insurmountable halftime lead of 24-6. The Steelers made it close but with a chance to win it late in the 4th quarter, LB Tim Cofield forced an errant throw by Malone that was intercepted by Lewis to preserve a 24-19 win.

This great secondary who rarely got their due outside of Kansas City had performed a game for the ages on defense and special teams. They kept scoring and putting themselves on the field yet only allowed 1 Steelers touchdown. If I were to wake you and tell you that you missed a game where a team won the game without scoring an offensive touchdown and were outgained 515-171 on the road, would you believe me?? http://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/198612210pit.htm Folks it happened.

For 1986, this group led the NFL in interceptions and blocked kicks with 5. Burruss, Cherry, Lewis, and Ross intercepted 18 passes themselves. This team lost the AFC Wild Card to the New York Jets 35-15 to end their season, yet before they went away quietly Albert Lewis scored one of the Chiefs touchdowns with another blocked punt.  After this teams more and more started putting some of their best players on special teams. It was this special unit in 1986 that showed how lethal your special teams can be utilizing your best talent.

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Fritz Shurmur’s Eagle Defense: The Birthplace of the Zone Blitz

NFL Guru: Defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur

The NFL has had several geniuses when it comes to coaches. Yet when it comes to coordinators many have not received their due nor have any made the Pro Football Hall of Fame based on their contributions. One such coach that did receive Hall of Fame consideration was Dick LeBeau (enshrined in 2011 as a player), who as a long time defensive coordinator has been credited (with Dom Capers) for creating the zone blitz in the modern NFL. Yes Pittsburgh became Blitzburgh but the true zone blitz, as a scheme, came from the mind of Fritz Shurmur. Another assistant deserving enshrinement in Canton.

In 1989, Shurmur was the defensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Rams. When the team suffered multiple injuries along the front line, yet had all their linebackers healthy, necessity became the mother of invention. His team employed a 3-4 defense that featured Kevin Greene, who had back to back 16.5 sacks in 1988 and 1989 (thanks Kevin), coming off the corner. Yet going into the wildcard matchup as an underdog, Shurmur decided  to go with emphasizing his linebackers over his linemen and came up with a 2 down lineman 5 linebacker set up to confuse Randall Cunningham.

You have to understand that this was Randall Cunningham at the height of his career, in fact the next year 1990,  he was the NFL’s MVP. However in 1989 he was on his way to stardom when he electrified a national audience on a Monday night by shaking off a hit by New York Giant Carl Banks, and throwing a touchdown to TE Jimmie Giles. He was a threat that ran for nearly 1,000 yards in the following year. He was John Elway 2.0 and the league was having serious problems in defending against such an athletic talent at QB.

In 1989 he led the Eagles in rushing with 621 yards while throwing for 3,400 yards 23 TDs and only 16 interceptions. The Eagles had won 5 of their final 6 games in 1989 and wanted to make amends in the playoffs for their 1988 playoff Fog Bowl loss in Chicago. Although they lost a toe to toe battle with the defending champion San Francisco 49ers in the regular season, the Eagles believed they could play with anyone and wanted a rematch with Joe Montana and company. But first they had to get through a wild card battle with the Los Angeles Rams, whom they taunted in the papers heading into the game. How would Shurmur defend Randall??

Shurmur opted for speed and confusion. One of the first items for a quarterback to determine is who the Mike (Middle) linebacker is. This is to set not only the blocking schemes but where the focal point to how the offense could attack the defense. Well the Rams shifted into their “Eagle” defense where OLBs Kevin Greene #91, Mel Owens #58, and Mike Wilcher #54 manned the outside with ILBs Larry Kelm #52, and Fred Strickland #53 were supplemented by either Brett Faryniarz #51 or George Bethune #57.

You have to understand the Rams weren’t doing this as a nickel defense, they were doing this on first and second downs also. Strickland would take the role of ‘nose-backer’ sometimes lining up as a nose tackle 1 yard off the ball and then would stand up to join the other four linebackers in a stand up position. They played a cat and mouse game as to who was the Mike on most plays.

Along with the outside linebackers taking a page out of Buddy Ryan’s 46 defense and stacking two OLBs over the tight end.  The Rams jumped on the Eagles  14-0 in the first quarter forcing Philadelphia to pass. There were plays where Los Angeles would have as many as 4 linebackers lined up on one side of the formation yet only rushed  one with a blitzing DB.  Along with confusing Cunningham from an alignment standpoint, Shurmur drew up defenses that had DE Mike Piel #95 either dropping or spying.

With an array of blitzes off the corner and so much speed on the field  to chase Cunningham, once he scrambled, had one of his worst days. The Eagles had little continuity and one of the reason the offense couldn’t adjust was the untimely death of Eagle quarterback coach Doug Scovil just a week prior to the game. Without his working confidante, Randall and Buddy Ryan’s offense couldn’t adjust as Kevin Greene recorded 2 sacks and hurried him into a 24 of 40 for 238 yards, 1 interception performance and no splash plays whatsoever.

Once the game was over and the Rams danced out of Philadelphia’s Veteran’s Stadium 21-7 winners, the league took notice of Shurmur’s masterpiece. Every other coordinator running a 3-4 during that time employed some of the same tactics Fritz pioneered. At the time it was thought by pundits that they couldn’t employ that gimmicky type of defense against a down hill running team.

In fact their next opponents would be exactly that style of offense and many waited for the Rams to sign a DL during the week, and when they didn’t, knew they’d see the defense again. An underdog for a second consecutive playoff game they traveled to the Meadowlands where Ottis “OJ” Anderson and the New York Giants would run into the belly of the Rams “Eagle” defense. No way could they win a second cold weather road game…right??

In this first vignette, you see the Eagle defense against the Giants on a sweep play. Notice how Shurmur has “nose backer” Strickland #53 off the ball? A concept borrowed from Tom Landry’s defensive tackle position in his Flex Defense, allowing Strickland to use his speed and agility against New York center Bart Oates.

On this play you recognize the cat and mouse game Shurmur’s defense is playing with Phil Simms. Not only does ‘nose backer’ Fred Strickland #53 line up over center in a 3 point stance, he then stands up to give the Rams 4 standing linebackers from the center to the weak side of the formation. Who’s coming?? Who’s dropping?? Simms is so rattled at this point he overthrows Lionel Emanuel and the boo birds were out in the Meadowlands.

On this play you’ll notice that SS Michael Stewart is up on the line to the strong side yet Shurmur still employed twin outside linebackers to the top of the screen in Mel Owens #58 and Mike Wilcher #54.  With the two linebackers up near the line of scrimmage they have to be accounted for by the Giants front line. You’ll notice they engage the OL which kept them from sliding their blocking attention to Kevin Greene who runs over FB Maurice Carthon #44.

Since they were in a 2TE max protection, the only outlet for Simms to throw to as he scrambles to his left is Ottis Anderson #24, yet the aforementioned Owens (who backed off after engaging Giant T Jumbo Elliot) and ILB Larry Kelm were sitting right there. With nowhere to throw the ball, time was up and Greene was right there for the sack. You can clearly see the confusion in the Giants offense. Look at Zeke Mowatt #84 who completely does a 360 and didn’t help Carthon on Greene. Why?? SS Stewart was there to occupy him. Genius

The Rams had been losing 6-0 when the Giants, late in the second quarter, uncharacteristically threw into the teeth of the Eagle defense and an interception set the Rams up to take a 7-6 lead at the half. The biggest play in the game and the turning point that allowed the Rams to upset the Giants 19-13. On this final play DE Mike Piel #95 drops off in the weak flat along with LB Strickland, lined up in 3 point stance in front of Giants guard William Roberts, who also drops.

George Bethune #57, takes over as the ‘nose backer with Brett Faryniarz #51 rushing from the weak-side along with Greene #91 on the strong side. Since Strickland’s first step is forward, Roberts #66 has to honor his charge and not help out LT Jumbo Elliot.  He has no one to block!! Greene and Faryniarz’s rush is so strong Simms has to get rid of the ball and Jerry Gray, zoning away from RB Dave Meggett,  tips the pass that Michael Stewart intercepts. You also notice that Meggett’s “scat” route was to his right and away from the DE that dropped in the weak flat.  Shurmur fielded ONE DL and didn’t rush him!! In a nickel defense?? Think about that for a second…

This was a masterpiece performance by a true NFL genius in Fritz Shurmur. The ’89 Rams fell to the eventual Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship and this defense never got the attention the 46 defense, the Steel Curtain, or the Ravens defense did because they didn’t win it all. Had they beat the 49ers and then the Broncos to win Super Bowl XXIV, this defense would have gone down in history. Yet what is interesting is this defense had it’s prime note taker in Giant defensive coordinator and current Patriot coach Bill Belichick.

How do we know this??

He used the 2 man front 1 year later in Super Bowl XXV to stop the Buffalo Bills to win that trophy. Just last year he used the defense with 5 standing players to force NY Jet QB Mark Sanchez into several interceptions. He used it against Tim Tebow also in both the regular season win and again in the playoffs. What Shurmur started in the 1989 playoffs live on to this day in a few 3-4 defenses. One centerpiece to this defense was Kevin Greene who moved on to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1993 to help form Blitzburgh.  Surely Greene took his playbook with him to Pittsburgh and may have shared some of these principles with Steeler coaches.


EPILOGUE: As for Shurmur, he moved on to become a champion defensive coordinator with the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXI with Mike Holmgren. You want to hear about the ties that bind?? From the late 80s into the early 90’s, Mike Holmgren was the offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers while Fritz Shurmur was his nemesis counterpart within the division for the Rams. Trust us…going into that 1989 NFC Championship it wasn’t a forgone conclusion that the Niners would win.

In fact, in ’89 the Rams won game 2, 13-12 in Candlestick and even though the Rams lost the NFC Championship to SF, they returned to San Francisco the following year. In that game the ‘Niners were 10-0 and the Rams were 3-7 when the Rams hammered them 28-17 when the Niners were trying to 3peat. So when Holmgren took the head coaching job in Green Bay he took Fritz Shurmur with him. Shurmur followed Holmgren to Seattle in 1999.

However he passed away before the 1999 season. Yet now as the Cleveland Browns GM, Holmgren hired current head coach Pat Shurmur, who is the nephew of Fritz.  Shurmur developed other defenses that we will give mention to in the near future yet this 1989 run with his “Eagle defense” was his masterpiece. Even though he went on to coach a 4-3 in Green Bay, his use and expertise to adapt to personnel turned his 3-4 into a juggernaut that nearly stole an NFL title.

This article is dedicated to the memory of Leonard Frank “Fritz” Shurmur (July 15, 1932 – August 30, 1999)

Thanks for reading and share the article. Coaches don’t forget to adapt to your personnel instead of forcing your plays down the throat of a group that may not be able to run it.

Our Proposed NFL Changes To Aid NFL Defenses

Green Bay Packers sacking Carson Palmer. An event we are not seeing enough of in today’s NFL.

What a completely goofy NFL season we just watched.  We knew that teams were going to be thrown off after the lockout but the fallout was greater than we thought.  We knew folks were going to have record offensive seasons, but what we saw was beyond our original thoughts. Dan Marino’s all time passing record of 5,084 yards being bested by nearly 400?? Where only twice in history we saw individual 5,000 yard passers give way to a season where we had three?? The NFL saw it’s first ever season in 2011 where multiple quarterbacks threw for more than 40 touchdowns in the same season. Seriously??

After an NFL season where the league cracked down on helmet to helmet hits on the field, we saw records for passing yards from multiple teams. When you look up and see a Matthew Stafford become the third quarterback in the same season to throw for over 5,000 yards, yo u know something is definitely wrong. Not only was it Stafford’s first complete season as a starting quarterback, he was outgunned in the season finale by Packers 2nd string quarterback, Matt Flynn. In that game, all Flynn did was shatter Packers passing records for yardage (480) and touchdowns (6) in his only start this year while the Packers rested Aaron Rodgers. This in microcosm was the NFL this season, high flying offense playing against pensive defenses scared to attack quarterbacks and receivers. It’s at this point, we claim the rules have been altered too much to aid the offense and something must be done. Yet where do we begin.

Sports Illustrated cover featuring the Amazing Orange Crush’s Rubin Carter once the Broncos went to 6-0 in 1977.

Well we have to take you back to 1978 to understand how we got here. The NFL adopted several rules to open up offenses that had been shut down during the mid 1970s. Most of these were in effect to legislate the Pittsburgh Steelers out of dominance. In 1976 the Steelers had a string where they gave up only 28 points over their last 9 games and shut out 5 of their last 8 opponents. This was followed up in 1977 when the Denver Broncos, on their way to Super Bowl XII, only gave up 148 points and 18 touchdowns. So something had to be done.

Well in 1974 the NFL widened the hashmarks and thought that would bring about more open space for the offense to move. Also wide receivers were not allowed to be chopped “hit below the waist” at the line of scrimmage. These changes weren’t enough. So in 1978 the rules were amended to where defenses were only allowed to “chuck” receivers within the first five yards of the scrimmage line. This is known as the Mel Blount rule. Offensive linemen were allowed to extend their arms while pass blocking to stop hard charging linemen.  Then about a decade later the league deemed that not enough and employed the cheat step. You’ll see tackles with their outside leg pivoted 2 to 3 yards back in the backfield to get a head start on blocking an opponents speed rusher. Couple this with “in the grasp” and any touching of the helmet of a quarterback culminating in a fifteen yard penalty and defensive players are playing on egg shells…

So what gets repealed?? Wide receivers getting hit all over the field if the ball isn’t in the air?? Well there are those that like to see a good bomb thrown in a football game so we won’t go there. Yet what we will do is return play at or near the line of scrimmage to it’s roots.

Article I Roughing the Passer – This will be called when the defensive player takes more than one step to hit the quarterback or if a hand extended to knock down a pass is swung to make contact with the quarterbacks helmet only. No more bogus 15 yard penalties to keep drives alive when a defender’s hand grazes a quarterbacks head. While reaching up to knock down a pass, it’s inevitable a defenders hand will hit a quarterbacks helmet. Only call it if the defender blatantly slams forward hitting the helmet. That’s why a quarterback wears one…for head protection.

Article II Repealing the offensive tackles cheat step to aid against speed rushers. Defensive players should be able to rush the quarterback better which should cause a few more errant throws and quarterback sacks. Enough with watching a Drew Brees throwing a football 62 times as he did in yesterday’s playoff loss to the 49ers with few hands in his face. Furthermore this would force offenses to employ smaller and quicker tackles. In light of the health issues and the mortality rate of 300 lbs. linemen after their playing days, this could be a move in the right direction.

Article II a. Repealing the rule that if a defensive linemen moves, which forces the offensive lineman to flinch, then penalizing the defender. This was another dumb rule that came along within the last 15 years. Nope…sorry. Return offensive linemen to having to play football and allow defenders the chance to rattle a young lineman or an injured one. Defensive players should be able to manipulate line play as much as the offense.

Article III Allow receivers to be hit within the first ten yards of the line of scrimmage. Enough of watching basketball players in shoulder pads, a helmet and nothing else, running unencumbered down the green fields of the NFL. Defenders should be allowed to have a cornerback “chuck” him and then a linebacker be able  to do so afterward to throw off the offensive play. Make receivers play football again.

The last change is a subtle referendum on pass interference. Re-emphasize the incidental contact rule made famous after the Benny Barnes /Lynn Swann Super Bowl XIII tripping moment. If there isn’t blatant pass interference where the defender disrupts the receivers attempt to catch the football, don’t throw the flag!! Far too many cheap 50 yard penalties because some primadona receiver flails his arms calling for one. Half the time, you’ll see receivers throwing their hands up instead of just trying to catch the football and this cheapens the game. It makes defenders gun shy in playing their position when the ball is in the air, and this is football, some contact will be made.

This is where the competition committee has given way to the corporate nature of the NFL’s non football playing brass. Everything isn’t about offense, offense, offense. Football fanatics remember reverently the ’85 Chicago Bears whom many feel were the best in history because of the 46 Defense. Steeler nation is right behind them having gained fans from the ‘Steel Curtain’ days and the current ‘Blitzburgh’ edition. Same thing with the Doomsday Defense in Dallas, and the 2000 Ravens. Teams where great defense was as beautiful to watch as tons of offense. This isn’t roller derby or basketball on grass. Lets return football to it’s fundamental roots that we all recognize.

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Special Teams: Can they win you an important football game??

All Pro safety in 1986, Derron Cherry was a regular on Frank Gansz special teams.

How often do you hear NFL, collegiate, or even high school football coaches say that “Special teams is a third of the game”?? Then rarely use their special teams as more than a field position element of the game. Aside from the Chicago Bears of recent years with Devin Hester, very few use their special teams as a weapon. Nor do most teams use their superstars on this third unit. Well in 1986, the Kansas City Chiefs fielded the best special teams and they were powered by the “Million Dollar Secondary” which was one of the best in NFL history. Safeties Derron Cherry and Lloyd Burruss coupled with the great cornerback tandem of Kevin “Rock” Ross and Albert Lewis manned the last line of defense.

You have to remember these were dark times for a once proud franchise. Not since the Christmas Day 1971 game of Ed Podolak in the longest game ever played vs the Dolphins, had the Chiefs participated in postseason play. Nothing was really expected of the ’86 version as well. There was an impasse at quarterback where the team went back and forth between quarterback’s Bill Kenney and Todd Blackledge with moderate success. They ran the football by committee between ex Browns Boyce Green and Mike Pruitt and as the season was concluding was down to KR Jeff Smith running the football. Smith’s real claim to fame was the National Championship upset where the Miami Hurricanes upset Nebraska, 31-30 in the ’84 Orange Bowl. It was Smith (Mike Rozier’s backup) who scored the final touchdown before the fateful two point attempt. Aside from Stephone Paige who once held the NFL record with 309 receiving yards in a game, none of these players were of distinction or Pro Bowl performers.

However there was hope in the #4 rated defense in the NFL that kept games close and special teams coach Frank Gansz utilized the best players on the team. This included Pro Bowlers Cherry, Burruss, and NT Bill Maas. Albert Lewis was a master at blocking punts as well. Cherry was All Pro at safety, having picked off 9 passes, to share that distinction with Ronnie Lott. Strong safety Lloyd Burruss (5int.s) enjoyed his best season in 1986 leading the NFL in both int. return yards 193 and touchdowns with 3. In fact it was Burruss with 2 interception returns for touchdowns against eventual AFC Champion Denver in week 14, that put the Chiefs in position to make the playoffs. It was this 37-10 victory that allowed the Chiefs to control their destiny with an 8-6 record. A win the following week against the Los Angeles Raiders set the Chiefs up for a do or die game in Pittsburgh to make the playoffs.

As was Four time Pro Bowl Cornerback Albert Lewis

What took place was one of the oddest games in NFL history in one regard, and one where a team taught everyone what it meant to use their special teams as a weapon. The Chiefs defense actually had one of it’s worse games of the year as they allowed 515 yards to Mark Malone and the Steeler offense. It was actually the Chiefs special teams fault they gave up so many yards. However they kept the Steelers out of the endzone for much of the day.  Of course the Chiefs offense disappointed only gaining 171 yards with the football. So what happened??

They took control in the 1st quarter when they had the Steelers backed up near their own goal line. Where most teams set up for a midfield return, Gansz and the Chiefs attacked. Cornerback Albert Lewis flew in from the wing to block the punt which was recovered by Derron Cherry in the endzone to take a 7-0 lead, silencing Three Rivers Stadium. Funny thing was had Lewis not blocked the punt, Burruss would have as they crisscrossed right in front of the punter. After trading field goals in the 2nd quarter, Boyce Green returned the subsequent kickoff 97 yards to extend the Chief lead to 17-3. A team with less than 100 yards of total offense had nearly a two touchdown lead in a game they needed to make the playoffs. Go figure…yet before the Steelers could get to halftime and make adjustments their offense raced downfield to narrow the score following another field goal.

 

The Steelers were in position for a Gary Anderson field goal to bring Pittsburgh to within a touchdown. The crowd would be back in the game and with the Steelers defense totally stifling the Chiefs offense, the game would turn in the second half right?? Well not quite. Pro Bowl Nose Guard Bill Maas charged through two Steeler linemen and blocked the kick. Lloyd Burruss snatched the loose ball and sailed 78 yards to an insurmountable halftime lead of 24-6. The Steelers made it close but with a chance to win it late in the 4th quarter, LB Tim Cofield forced an errant throw by Malone that was intercepted by Lewis to preserve a 24-19 win.

This great secondary who rarely got their due outside of Kansas City had performed a game for the ages on defense and special teams. They kept scoring and putting themselves on the field yet only allowed 1 Steelers touchdown. If I were to wake you and tell you that you missed a game where a team won the game without scoring an offensive touchdown and were outgained 515-171 on the road, would you believe me?? http://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/198612210pit.htm Folks it happened.

For 1986, this group led the NFL in interceptions and blocked kicks with 5. Burruss, Cherry, Lewis, and Ross intercepted 18 passes themselves. This team lost the AFC Wild Card to the New York Jets 35-15 to end their season, yet before they went away quietly Albert Lewis scored one of the Chiefs touchdowns with another blocked punt.  After this teams more and more started putting some of their best players on their special teams. It was this special unit in 1986 that showed how lethal your special teams can be utilizing your best talent.