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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