Top Ten Single Season Defenses in NFL History: Honorable Mention

When Malcolm Smith crossed the goal line to put Seattle up 22-0 in last February’s Super Bowl, pundits were already arguing where they ranked among the NFL’s greatest defenses. Here at Taylor Blitz Times we wanted to let some time pass before we waxed too philosophical about their exploits. As the keeper of the flame, it’s up to The Chancellor of Football to accurately place each great defense. We will do this in 3 parts.

Smith's 69 yard interception in Super Bowl XLVIII ended the competitive phase of the game.

Smith’s 69 yard interception in Super Bowl XLVIII ended the competitive phase of the game and trumpeted the question: Where would you rank Seattle’s defense with  the all-time greats??

One of the criteria for greatest ever defenses you have to ask is: How dominant were they at their peak? They had to bring the lumber over an entire season. These defenses had to be stout with a performance that stands the test of time in remembrance. Without further adieu we have to get on with the Honorable Mention. Those right outside the top ten.

1977 Denver Broncos – The original Orange Crush defense that led the Broncos to Super Bowl XII and Denver’s first ever winning season. This was the first great full time 3-4 defense that yielded only 148 points (10.6 pts / game) and just 18 touchdowns for the season. Holding 7 of their opponents to 10 points or less.

Even with an offense that turned it over 8 times, the still held Dallas to 27 points in Super Bowl XII.

Even with an offense that turned it over 8 times, the still held Dallas to 27 points in Super Bowl XII.

Led by Randy Gradishar, ESPN’s Tom Jackson, and the late Lyle Alzado this defense had an unheard of 4 All Pros concentrated on this defense and 5 Pro Bowlers. This not ready for primetime group came out of nowhere and swallowed the Steelers and Raiders in the playoffs before falling to Dallas in New Orleans in Super Bowl XII. This group swarmed like bees and ushered in the era where 3-4 defenses took over the NFL.

1978 Pittsburgh Steelers – In the first year in which the NFL moved to a 16 game schedule, this group set the new record with fewest points allowed in a season with 195. Powered by the Steel Curtain, they held 8 of 16 opponents to 10 or fewer points. This group did more blitzing than in years past to get to the quarterback. They did have 5 Pro Bowl defenders and 1 All Pro in Jack Ham, but there were stronger incarnations of the Steeler defense.

A fact that gets lost is going into Super Bowl XIII, the consensus was Pittsburgh force vs the finesse Cowboys. Yet it was Dallas whose defense was ranked #2 and Pittsburgh’s #3, For the season they yielded 260.5 yards per game, unofficially had 52 sacks and 27 interceptions which ranked 7th. They peaked in the playoffs holding both Denver and Houston to 10 points and 5 points respectively. Yet gave up some serious candy to the Dallas offense (320 yards & 31 points)

1968 Baltimore Colts – The team that is best known for coming up short in Super Bowl III against the AFL’s New York Jets. In The Chancellor of Football’s estimation, this was the best team that Don Shula ever coached and one of his defensive assistants was the late Chuck Noll. This defense held 10 of 14 regular season opponents to 10 or fewer points. At one point late in the season, they gave up 1 touchdown over 25 quarters including a string of 16 straight quarters w/out a touchdown allowed.

md-darkroom-hutchins-curtisThe Colts of ’68 shut out 3 regular season opponents and the fourth was against the Browns who gave the 13-1 team their only loss. That drubbing was avenged 34-0 in the NFL Championship Game. They even set the record with only 144 points allowed. Between 1967 & 1968 their record was 24-2-2. If only this team had won on January 12th 1969…..but….

2000 Tennessee Titans – Lost in the delirium over the great 2000 Ravens defense, is the fact they finished #2 to the Titans that year in rankings. Jeff Fisher’s bunch only allowed 238.9 yards per game and held 6 opponents to 10 points or less over the campaign.

Second year DE Jevon Kearse led the team with 11.5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles. Samri Rolle had 7 interceptions he returned for 140 yards and a touchdown. SS Blaine Bishop had 84 tackles to go with 2.5 sacks but 0 interceptions. All three were Pro Bowlers but only Samari was an All Pro Player. One issue is they didn’t force enough turnovers (29) and they finished just +1 in turnover ratio. These are poor marks considering they only saw 1 Pro Bowl quarterback the entire season. Yet they were #1 against the pass (151 yds /gm) and #3 against the run (86 yds /gm).

1987 San Francisco 49ers – One of the last teams to finish with the NFL’s #1 offense and defense happened with this group in 1987. They were gaining momentum allowing only 1 touchdown in the final 16 quarters of the season and none in the final 12 as the playoffs beckoned. They held 5 opponents to 10 or fewer points including two shutouts in their final three games. One of which was a 41-0 hammering of the NFC Central Champion Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football. 

Led by All Pro and Pro Bowler Ronnie Lott (5 ints) this group was #1 against the pass (165 yds /gm) while only yielding 273 yards for the game. What makes this more remarkable are 3 games were played with replacement players due to the strike. Had the season been 16 games instead of 15 and no strike, these numbers could have been even better. They were also #5 against the run (107.4 yds / gm) thanks to All Pro and Pro Bowl Nose Tackle Michael Carter.

Jim Burt knocking Joe Montana out with a concussion in their 49-3 rout in the '86 playoffs.

Jim Burt knocking Joe Montana out with a concussion in their 49-3 rout in the ’86 playoffs.

1986 New York Giants – A romanticized defense that knocked 5 quarterbacks out on their way to the Super Bowl XXI championship. Yet they were #2 in 1986 and allowed 39 more yards per game than the #1 Chicago Bears with 297.3 yards per game. Second biggest discrepancy between #1 and #2 since 1970.

Led by League MVP and Defensive Player of the Year Lawrence Taylor’s 20 sacks, New York held 5 teams to 10 points or fewer during the regular season. They held their 2 NFC playoff opponents to 3 & 0 points respectively. There were 4 Pro Bowl defenders on this defense in LB Harry Carson, NT Jim Burt, DE Leonard Marshall, and the aforementioned LT.

2008 Pittsburgh Steelers – Close but no cigar. This team finished with the #1 ranking allowing just 237.2 yards per game. They held 8 opponents to 10 or fewer points yet gave up 223 for the season. One mark against them is they only faced 2 Pro Bowl QBs and lost both games. Losing 24-20 to Peyton’s Colts and 21-14 against Eli’s Giants. This was also the year they beat the Patriots 33-10 with Matt Cassel at QB not an injured Tom Brady. Big difference. This group had 51 sacks but only 20 interceptions. The last time we saw them, Kurt Warner passed for 377 yards, 2nd highest in Super Bowl history, and needed Big Ben to bail them out with a game winning pass with :32 left.

This group did have NFL Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison and Pro Bowl SS Troy Palamalu who would win the award 2 years later. Harrison had 16 sacks with 7 forced fumbles. James Farrior (122 tackles) was the 3rd and final Pro Bowler on a talented roster which included LaMarr Woodley (11 sacks).  They were a world champion but this group didn’t perform high enough against the best competition. The top ten is a Sugar Ray Leonard’s list, the honorable mention is where Thomas Hearns resides.

Dwight Smith capped off Super Bowl XXXVII with 2 defensive touchdowns. Should have been the MVP.

Dwight Smith capped off Super Bowl XXXVII with 2 defensive touchdowns. Should have been the MVP.

2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers – The final team to miss the call to the top ten was the 2002 Buccaneers. The undisputed #1 defense that year. However playing in the new NFC South they feasted on patsies. On 3 occasions they took on top 10 offenses and they lost two of those games to Philadelphia (10th) and Pittsburgh (5th).

This team yielded 252.8 yards per game had 43 sacks and 31 interceptions which ranked 6th and 1st respectively. This team only gave up 196 points while holding 9 regular season opponents to 10 or fewer points. However a closer look reveals they came against offenses ranked 26th, 18th, 14th, 23rd, 31st, 31st, 12th, 14th, and 29th. Chris Redman (who??) quarterbacked the Ravens who was the first in this group. While NFL journeyman Jim Miller led the Bears in the last game.

This team fielded 5 Pro Bowl players in NFL Defensive Player of the Year Derrick Brooks, Shelton Quarles, Hall of Famer Warren Sapp, Simeon Rice (15.5 sacks), and S John Lynch. This group scored on defense. Brooks tied the NFL record with 4 defensive touchdowns and CB Dwight Smith set a Super Bowl record with 2 interception returns for touchdowns. Their numbers and performance should get them in until you look at the competition. Someone reading this is going to describe how they throttled the #1 Raider offense in the Super Bowl. Yet how much do you attribute to Monte Kiffin’s defense or Jon Gruden knowing the Raider offense and personnel??

Thanks for reading and now its time for the top 10.

Advertisements

Warren Sapp Makes The Hall of Fame

Warren Sapp as a Miami [[_]] Hurricane!!

Warren Sapp as a Miami [[_]] Hurricane!!

When you think back to Tampa Bay’s Super Bow XXXVII win over the Oakland Raiders, you knew it was a win that was years in the making. It was born when Buccaneer coach Sam Wyche made two critical moves that solidified the franchise. The first thing he did was turn the organization into a defensive minded outfit, by signing free agent Middle Linebacker Hardy Nickerson as it’s  impenetrable core. This was the first year of NFL free agency in 1993 and this was where the Buccaneers re-invented themselves. Second was anointing Wyche’s assistant coach to Head Coach, Tony Dungy who selected Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks in the draft of 1995. Brooks was a slightly undersized linebacker from Florida St.  But Warren Sapp??

Twin draft pics in 1995 turned the fortune of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Twin draft pics in 1995 turned the fortune of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After a sterling career at the University of Miami, Sapp was in line to make an impact on the NFL when before the draft, a report was leaked that Sapp had failed drug tests which affected his status. Even though he was the Big East Defensive Players of the Year, an All American, and winner of both the Nagurski and Lombardi Awards, 11 teams passed on him on draft day. He was projected to go number 1 and fell to the “Yucs” at #12. You could see the disappointment in his face. The picture above was once they were in Tampa for the press conference.

Why the “Yucs”?? This team had been laughingstocks for most of their history up to that point. For 12 years, from 1983-1994 the team had double-digit losses.

What didn’t bode well for Warren Sapp that day was the fuel to what burned as motivation for Sapp the rest of his career. He started slowly but by his 2nd season, he made his presence felt with 51 tackles, 9 sacks and 1 forced fumble. Since he was one with a big mouth and part of the “in your face generation” that hit the NFL in the mid to late 90’s it took time to gain acceptance. He should have made the Pro Bowl in ’96 but the Buccaneers were 6-10 and still a loser.

Sapp was a larger than life defensive tackle that Tony Dungy built his defense around. Pictured here celebrating in Super Bowl XXXVII.

Sapp was a larger than life defensive tackle that Tony Dungy built his defense around. Pictured here celebrating in Super Bowl XXXVII.

All that changed in 1997 as the team rolled out to a 5-0 start. In the opener against San Francisco, they knocked out both Steve Young and Jerry Rice in a 13-6 win. Sapp had relentlessly been involved in both plays. He began the season on everyone’s radar with a 2 1/2 sack performance.  In a frightening display of power and speed, Warren and the Bucs in their new uniforms showed a new day was dawning in Tampa.

They had throttled an offense that had been one of the NFL’s best for two decades and knocked Jerry Rice out for the season. Those two points alone had NFL shows talking about the 49ers, the Bucs, and especially Warren Sapp. No longer was he just one for on-field antics that made a few defensive plays, he was maturing into the best interior lineman in football. In ’97 he finished with 58 tackles, 10 1/2 sacks along with 3 forced fumbles and 1 recovery. They finished with a 10-6 record and a defensive ranking of #3.  Earning Tampa its first playoff berth in 14 years.

After defeating the Lions for their first playoff win since 1979, they made the pilgrimmage to Lambeau Field for a divisional playoff against the defending Super bowl Champion Packers.  Many weren’t taking the Bucs too serious. You have to understand the stigma they were trying to shed. Further evidence was the fact that 5 of their 6 losses had come from within the NFC Central. Sure they beat an inconsistent Detroit in the Wild Card 20-10. Many thought the Bucs would be happy just getting to the divisional round. Where Favre, White, Joyner and company were eyeing back to back championships and should plow through the neophyte Bucs. Besides, it would be 27* and Tampa hadn’t won a game where it was under 40* ever.

Sapp chases down Favre for one of his 3 sacks in the 1998 NFC Divisional Playoff in Lambeau.

Sapp chases down Favre for one of his 3 sacks in the 1998 NFC Divisional Playoff in Lambeau.

What took place on a dreary day in Green Bay was a young Lion standing toe to toe with an old warrior for 60 brutal minutes of football. In the signature game that defined his career, Sapp was all over Brett Favre and the Packer offense. He amassed 3 sacks and a fumble recovery. After each time he stopped a running play or harassed Favre, the two talked trash to each other and a national television audience witnessed the coming of the Bucs.

Inspired by Sapp’s lead by example, the Bucs, who had fallen behind 13-0, refused to be buried and began to believe they could win. Although they fell just 21-7, many saw a future champion in Tampa. On this day, he wrested the defensive leader mantle from Nickerson and placed it on himself. He was the face of the franchise and the entire off-season, his performance in that playoff loss to Green Bay seemed to be all people were talking about.

What we saw that day were two of the NFL’s best playing high stakes football as though it were being played in a backyard somewhere. The little brother Bucs led by Warren passionately jawing and playing with the favored big brother Packers led by Brett. Tony Dungy had tuned his team to the point they needed to catch and beat Green Bay in their growth as a club. So the playoff game was played like it was a Super Bowl.

In 1999, Sapp had the best season of his career. He was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year for his 41 tackle, 12 1/2 sacks, and 4 forced fumble performance. He led the Bucs back to the NFL playoffs, this time making it to the NFC Championship Game. Although an 11-6 loss to the Rams kept them from Super Bowl glory, Sapp led his team there at the conclusion of the 2002 season.

The calm before the storm before Super Bowl XXXVII.

The calm before the Super Bowl XXXVII storm. Tampa won 48-21. The Raiders never knew what hit them.

The victory in Super Bowl XXXVII validated many careers and vindicated one Warren Sapp. Eight years before he was embarrassed at the NFL draft amid rumors of drug use and having his character in question after his years in Miami. To some they still saw him as a big-mouthed player that was more show than substance. That Super Bowl victory made them have to acknowledge him as a champion. Critics had to give him his due as the best “three” technique defensive tackle of his time.

300_110727For his career he amassed 573 tackles, 96 1/2 sacks, 19 forced fumbles, 12 recoveries, and 4 interceptions, returning one for a touchdown.  Since the NFL is about sack totals for most pundits, he’s second only behind former Viking and Hall of Fame member John Randle. Whom he played with many times in Hawai’i where he made 7 trips to the Pro Bowl. Sapp wanted to be remembered like a Joe Greene. A true giant of the game.

Right after Super Bowl XXXVII, Sapp said we had to put his Bucs up there with the greatest defenses to play in the NFL. Can that point be argued??

  • ’85 Chicago Bears – #1 defense / allowed 258.4 yards per game /allowed 198 points for the season / 64 sacks / 34 ints / scored 6 TDs defensively
  • ’00 Baltimore Ravens -#2 defense / allowed 247.9 yards per game /allowed 165 points for the season / 43 sacks /23 ints/  1TD scored defensively
  • ’02 Tampa Buccaneers – #1 defense / allowed 252.8 yards per game / allowed 196 points for the season / 43 sacks/ 31 ints /scored 5TDs defensively
  • ’78 Pittsburgh Steelers – #3 defense / allowed 260.5 yards per game /allowed 198 points for the season/  / 27 ints /1 TD scored defensively

On second thought an argument can be made for the 2002 Tampa By defense as among the best of the Super Bowl era. One point that can’t be is the selection of Warren Sapp as a Hall of Famer.

For induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, from The [[_]], Warren Sapp aka QB Killa

Thanks for reading and share the article.

Taylor Blitz Times new logo!!

Taylor Blitz Times new logo!!