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.

2011 Steelers Preview

Welcome to the casual Friday version of the Taylor Blitz Times.  Time to look at what the Steelers have to address as we look into the crystal ball and figure what this team needs to address going into 2011.  While it’s true Pittsburgh has made it to 3 Super Bowls in 5 years they do have a few things to address.   The Steelers have another solid year of being clearly better than all but Baltimore in their division.  The Browns are improving and the Bengals aren’t sure if they are coming or going, especially with the ongoing Carson Palmer saga.  Yet a closer look and there are some positions where the Steelers are showing age and wear.  This can haunt a team that is used to winning close games for a fickle bounce of the ball one way late can turn what would have been a win into a loss.  So lets get started.

Quarterback: Big Ben Roethlisberger, who doesn’t play according to the quarterback ratings system and doesn’t seem to be a polished passer.  He’s not in the Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning class right? Thats perception until you look at the actual numbers. In 2010 Roethlisberger threw for 17 TDs and only 5 interceptions and had a passer rating of 97.0.  His TD to interception ratio is as good as any QB in the NFL.  His never give up on a play attitude does lead to some sacks and turnovers but it also leads to breathtaking plays like the 59 yard bomb to rookie Antonio Brown, with 2 minutes to go in the divisional playoff with the Ravens.  His comebacks are more schizophrenic than artistic yet his statistics are starting to show he belongs in the upper echelon of quarterbacks.

Going into his 7th season Ben is clearly in his prime.  In 2009 he threw for over 4,300 yards and 26tds a season after throwing for a career high 32tds in 2007.  Scrambling and making plays has masked a deficient running game a few years back and now a suspect offensive line.  You have to give him credit he’s a winner.  He had an off game early in Super Bowl XLV against the Packers, yet battled back in that one as well.   Still on the upswing…

Offensive Backfield: The Steelers are set for the forseeable future with Mendenhall.  A physical runner with quick, patient feet.  No running back in football defines his team with his style of play.  Although he’s had back to back 1,100 yard seasons, 1,273 in 2010, and he’s done so behind a patchwork offensive line  which needs to be improved.  Could challenge for a rushing title behind a better line. Entering his 4th season, he’s proven durable and may have his best season.  He wants to make good after his 4th quarter Super Bowl fumble and you know he’s living with it this entire off-season.  Look for him to come into 2011 with a serious chip on his shoulder.  Mewelde Moore is a capable backup and can fill in for Mendenhall in spells yet is better as a back on screens and draws than off tackle plays.   A little of Mendenhall has rubbed off on Moore who has run with more authority since Rashard’s arrival.

Offensive Line: A beleaguered group did hit a good note with the drafting of center Maurkice Pouncey.  He can anchor the Steelers line for many years to come.  Where there are issues is when you move out to Tackle.  Flozell Adams was only a stop gap measure for the injuries to both Willie Colon and Max Starks.  The Ravens Terrell Suggs had 3 sacks against this line in the divisional playoff also.  When healthy, Starks has problems with quicker pass rushing ends and linebackers anyway.  Look to the Steelers to draft some help here.

Contrary to popular belief, this line doesn’t get as much push in the running game as it seems.  They have benefited from Mendenhall breaking tackles and making them look better than they have played.  Much like Roethlisberger’s scrambles have helped their sack numbers.  In the Super Bowl you could see this when Mendenhall was hit in the backfield 6 times on rushing plays including the critical 4th quarter fumble that sealed the Steelers fate.  More and more drives depend on Ben making a play to keep drives alive than the Steelers powering the ball down opponents throats.  That deficiency clearly comes from this line not getting much push.   Need a serious upgrade and should use 2 draft picks here.

Receivers: After the loss of Santonio Holmes, I for one, thought this would be a weakness that would come back to haunt the Steelers.  The emergence of Mike Wallace, who was a Pro Bowl snub, more than made up for Holmes departure.  Wallace’s performance?  60 receptions for 1,257 yards and 10 touchdowns with a whopping 21 yards per reception and no Pro Bowl? Come on man!  This deep, threat entering his third year, played better than expected and compliments Big Ben’s scrambling to put fear in rival defenses and will only get better.  Rookie Antonio Brown started to emerge as the playoffs neared and should replace Randle El.  He showed explosive speed as well and was a jolt to the Steelers special teams and will come into year 2 brimming with confidence.

Hines Ward has really slowed, he looked like a tight end through much of last year.  He’s been a durable Hall of Fame receiver who may retire before we get to the 2011 season. The Steelers will need to develop a possession receiver or move to more 2 tight ends if Ward doesn’t come back.  If he does look to teams running man under coverage and smothering him on underneath routes because he can’t get deep.  He may need to be platooned and come out in certain situations. He’s slowed too much.  At tight end Matt Spaeth and Heath Miller are the best one – two punch in football. Each block and are sure handed underneath receivers and bail Ben out on those 3rd and 4 scrambles.   At receiver, the Steelers are really in good shape.

Defensive Line: Although this team was one of history’s most stout defensive fronts, this team can become old and give up yards in a hurry like the Steel Curtain of the 70’s did in 1980.  DE Aaron Smith enters his 13th year along with fellow DE Brett Keisel going into his 10th.  At NT, you have Casey Hampton entering his 11th season while his backup Chris Hoke is going into his 10th…Yikes!! They could be on the verge of a defensive collapse. They really had no affect in Super Bowl XLV.  They did draft Ziggy Hood who has been a little more consistent as of late but 2011 could be the last hurrah with fingers crossed that 2010 wasn’t for this group.  Face it from halftime of the AFC Championship game against the New York Jets on through the Super Bowl, this group was non existent.  The Packers and Jets ran when they wanted to.  Watchout…seriously

Linebackers: Don’t look now but the Steelers are getting a little long in the tooth at inside linebacker also.  James Farrior has quietly been one of football’s best ILBs for the last six years.  He’s been a consumate pro since he came over from the NY Jets yet he’s entering his 15th season.  The Steelers brought back Larry Foote who played well last year and he’s entering his 10th season while they’re backup Keyaron Fox is entering his 8th.  Fox also had a dumb personal foul call on the kickoff before the Steelers final drive that pushed them back to a point of desperation in the Super Bowl.  The Steelers need to draft here to prepare for the enevitable.

At outside linebacker this team couldn’t be more set with former NFL Defensive Player of the Year in James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley.  The best set of outside linebackers in football bar none.  Even if one of them goes down, the Steelers have Lawrence Timmons out of Florida State, whom they play out of position as a nickel inside linebacker just to get him on the field.  Harrison and Woodley are stout against the run and rush the passer as well as any set of linebackers in history.  Their disappearance in Super Bowl XLV was puzzling….Woodley, Farrior, and Harrison combined for only 7 tackles in that football game.  The Packers handled this team at the line of scrimmage and no one was used to that.  Need to draft some inside linebacker help….

Secondary: The word for today kids is exposure.  LOL  Ike Taylor and William Gay were struggling to chase down Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson in the Super Bowl.  Do you realize had Jordy held onto the 3 passes he dropped he would have broken Jerry Rice’s Super Bowl receiving record for yardage?  This bunch got scorched once the pass rush was stymied.  Need legitimate help here. Taylor is a free agent and may leave, barring the team that tries to sign him not look at the Super Bowl footage, yet I digress.  a stat was floating around that this was the 22nd best defensive backfield as a group yet it was the corners who were the Achilles heal.  Help needed immediately

For the safeties are the best in football as a tandem in NFL Defensive Player of the Year Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark out of LSU.  However how long can these two play at such a high level?  Polamalu is going into year 9 and Clark is going into year 10 and the pounding is taking its toll on Troy who has missed 5 games in the last two seasons due to injury.  He rushed to come back and wasn’t the same player and you saw he couldn’t get to the corner to stop Aaron Rodgers throws over the corner.  Troy just couldn’t get there.  When healthy he is the most instinctive defensive players in the NFL and will go to the Hall of Fame.  Has his physical style of play rendered his body to the point he can’t complete a full season anymore?? Hmmm??

Draft, draft, draft!!  There are some needs everywhere from both the offensive and defensive lines, the inside linebacker position and cornerback. Age can really hit this team all at once.  Although its not likely they just have to prepare.  This is that last season where they are clearly better than the rest of the division.  They are about to transition into being more of an offensive football team than that of a defensive one.   The defense will need to be rebuilt in 2012. The Steelers have to get younger.

AFC Championship Preview

Don’t you just love this time of year? The conference final has a home team with passionate fans which is antithetical to Super Bowl corporate yahoo crowds.  They’re so staid…I love the noise that is generated as the teams are introduced and hope the networks let us hear and feel that intensity and not talk over what the cameras and microphones are picking up. Yet its time for the two most magical games to take place.

As I look at this game the first thing you have to realize is the league’s number 2 & 3 ranked defense in the Steelers and Jets respectively.  Each team runs a tough 3-4 defense that are stout against the run yet the Steelers offense comes in with a glaring weakness with 2 backup tackles.  We know the son of Buddy Ryan will send blitzes at different times against Ben Roethlisberger.  We know Big Ben is one of the greatest quarterbacks in the league, yet can get sacked going after the big play.  He’s a big body and feels like that he can shake free from a blitzer and often does.  Last week the Ravens were getting to him in the first half and that offensive line hasn’t improved on the health front.  Furthermore Darrelle Revis has returned to “Revis Island” form while Antonio Cromartie, and nickleback Drew Coleman are jelling as a secondary and can stay with the Steelers recievers when Ben extends the play. Evidenced by one play last week where Tom Brady couldn’t find a reciever when he had 8.5 seconds to do so. Don’t forget that Revis is from Pittsburgh.  Revis on Mike Wallace will throw the Steelers for a loop. Advantage Jets.

The key to a Steelers victory quite simply are the legs of Rashard Mendenhall.  Is it me or is he not the perfect back for the Pittsburgh Steelers?  He just fits the image in your mind of the Steelers running the football.  He has to have a 120 yard game and wear down the Jets defense.  Calvin Pace and Jason Taylor are older outside linebackers who don’t have rocks in their pockets and can be moved run blocking wise.  He has to keep the Steelers out of obvious passing situations where their line can be exposed.  Hard nosed, nearly rushed for 1,300 yards, he has a legitimate chance to do that.

Countering that the Jets are going with a two headed monster of LaDanian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene (what kind of spelling is that) …anyway  They are averaging over 120 yards in the playoffs and can easily switch to a runner with livelier legs in a particular half.  We saw this when the Jets switched to Tomlinson to start the second half against the Colts in the wildcard round.  Greene last week was the hotter hand in the divisional round when he ran for 76 yards agains the Patriots last week.  They as a group are averaging over 120 yards themselves. Advantage push…until you read next paragraph..

When it comes to defense lets face it…The Jets play great defense, the Steelers are defense. Each team stops the run well.  The Steelers are #1 against the run, giving up only 62.8 yards a game.  The Jets are giving up 90.9 yards a game.  The Steelers win that matchup.  Could see Mendenhall pushing over 100 yards grudgingly.  The Jets will have to over-reach to make it to their goal of 120 yards.  The Steelers have great pass rushers in Harrison (10.5 sacks) and LaMarr Woodley (10 sacks) and are clearly the Steelers wildcard.  Their secondary at one point late in the season were ranked 22nd against the pass who have to contend against former teammate Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards.  Slight advantage Steelers.

Mark Sanchez doesn’t have great stats but he did last week throwing for 3 TDs last week and outperformed Tom Brady. He’s progressing and has done so all year.  All year.  After throwing Hall of Famers Tom Brady and Peyton Manning out of the playoffs it is time to wake up to the fact that he’s won 4 playoff games.  He is a legitimate quarterback and has played all five of his game on the road.  Don’t look now but I think he’s going to win his 6th if he gets the running game going or completing passes on rollouts. 

Those things said…I’m going with the Jets in this game, 27-24.  There is something that will come to pass with those tackles of the Steelers.  I’m afraid there will be a turnover that will quiet Heinz Field.  The Jets are a mirror image of what the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers were.  Hungry, veteran laden, young quarterback and a tough running game. I have the Jets in a tough game where they won a few weeks  ago.  Santonio Holmes and Brad Smith will provide a few spark plays as well… Based on emotion and defensive Xs and Os…

2010 AFC Champion: New York Jets