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.

me and singeltary

Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary and The Chancellor of Football on the Ravens sideline in 2003.

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.

Dedicated to the memory of James David “Buddy” Ryan (February 17, 1931 – June 28, 2016)

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Robert Brazile Should Be in The Hall of Fame – HOF Edition

Dr. DoomOriginally Published 2, March 2011 w/ Postscript 21, August 2018 

There are many former NFL players swept into the dustbin of history who aren’t given their due. There are those that are victims of where they play as much as who they lost to that defined how they are remembered historically by the sporting press.

Enter Robert Brazille.  During the late 1970s the Houston Oilers were overshadowed by the perennial champion Pittsburgh Steelers and the players that comprised those teams that bested them in the ’78 and ’79 AFC Championship games.

Whereas the Pittsburgh Steelers had one of the greatest strong side outside linebackers in Jack Ham in a 4-3 defense, the Houston Oilers fielded the epitome of the weakside linebacker in Robert Brazile for the 3-4 defense.  Yet we must go back to NFL rule changes earlier in the decade that necessitated changes that had repercussions for years to come.

The 1974 NFL season saw several rule changes, kickoffs were moved back to the 35 yard line, goalposts were moved to the back of the end zone and the hash marks were narrowed on the field.  This brought the necessity for more speed to cover additional field at outside linebacker, where a new type of player was needed.  Enter the thought process of deciding if it was best to go after the passer or cover the flank from the outside linebacker position.

Several teams adopted the “53 defense” that the perennial champion  Miami Dolphins instituted part time which saw DT Bill Heinz replaced with LB Bob Matheson, who wore #53, and could rush the passer as well as drop back into coverage. This change from 3 linebackers to 4 linebackers clogged the underneath passing routes.  Many teams that were desperate for a winner went for this new tactical defensive adaptation of the old’50’s  “Oklahoma” Bud Wilkinson defense full time.  The 3-4 was just the old “Wilkinson 5-2” which had the two ends take their hand off the ground and become trackers.

Robert Brazile was the first truly great outside linebacker that was based out of the 3-4 alignment and was the start of a new breed of linebacker.  He was the 1975 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and broke the mold for what was expected from the outside linebacker position. He took home 5 defensive and rookie of the year honors. Before him, the Jack Ham 6’1 215 lbs outside LB, was the prototypical build, Brazile was the breaking of that mold weighing in at 6 ft 3 inches and 235 lbs. More like Bobby Bell and David Robinson from the 1960s.

He was strong enough to take on offensive tackles and tight ends at the point of attack, speed to chase down ball carriers from behind and power to rush the passer.  Brazile was the only player to make All-Pro from 1976-1980 at any position and was the player that the late George Young envisioned when he drafted North Carolina’s Lawrence Taylor.

This talent, who was a collegiate teammate of Walter Payton, played at a time where sacks weren’t recorded as a statistic. It wasn’t until 1982 when sacks became official stats. Had this happened earlier, Brazile could have gained more acclaim as the best outside linebacker of his era.  In fact do you realize Robert Brazile is a member of the all decade team of the 1970s as voted by the Pro Football Hall of Fame?? In fact he’s on their 2nd all decade team right next to Jack Lambert who is inducted, and remains the only linebacker within that group, not elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. An injustice that needs to be corrected.

Again Robert Brazile was the prototype to the heavier more athletic linebacker, bred to cover a wider field circa 1974 to the present, that played with an intensity that Lawrence Taylor,  Andre Tippett, Hugh Green, Rickey Jackson, and E.J. Junior carried into 1980’s stardom.  Yet that notoriety started because Lawrence Taylor landed in New York and the sporting press lauded him as the greatest defensive player ever.  Rightfully so… If that’s the case, what do you call or gauge the 7 time Pro Bowl member of the All Decade team of the 70’s, 5 consecutive year All Pro linebacker selection he replaced and was patterned after??

Brazile,Robert4The biggest difference is the Oilers didn’t realize what they had and should have sent him crashing off the corner more. He should have been blitzing 40 – 50% of the time. Even though statistics on sacks weren’t kept until 1982, he finished that year with 6.5 sacks when the strike shortened the year to 9 games. It was the last of his 7 straight trips to Hawaii.

Robert “Dr. Doom” Brazile, an all time great that should not be swept into the dustbin of history because he played in Houston and not Dallas.  The fact that the sporting press has failed to stand up for a great player who didn’t play for a great team or self promoted gives way to why we see those players who do.

Understand this, the next time you see Clay Matthews Jr., James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley blitz off the corner from a 3-4 linebacker spot, you’re watching what started with Robert “Dr. Doom” Brazile in 1975 and not Lawrence Taylor and 1981.  For the Hall of Fame, I present Robert Brazile… an all time classic.

Postscript August 21, 2018: Just a few weeks removed from a glorious trip to Canton. He was presented by his father and Brazile let us know how he had lost the love of football and now the game was showing him it loved him back.

brazile.partyIt was great to hear Lawrence Taylor share the phrase “He was LT before LT” …now where had we heard that before?? Even Black College Football Hall of Fame LB Thomas Henderson was in the house for Brazile’s induction and The Chancellor got to catch up to him.

brazile.chancellorIts an honor for me that Brazile was the very 1st player written about in this series of all players who belonged in Canton who had yet to make it. Keep in mind when Brazile went into The Gridiron Greats Hall of Fame in 2016 the words of this article before this postscript were read to introduce him on that June night. It was great to catch up to him late in the evening after The Gold Jacket Dinner at the hotel, right as he was leaving the stage after the ceremony, and again at the airport as we were all leaving Canton.

brazile.lockerCongratulations on your induction and I told you I’d be there. You’re forever in the Pro Football Hall of Fame now.

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