Top Ten Single Season Defenses in NFL History : #2 2000 Baltimore Ravens

The bludgeoning Baltimore Ravens in 2000 was one of the greatest defenses in NFL history and lands at #2 on The Chancellor of Football’s list. Aside from winning Super Bowl XXXV, their greatest accomplishment was setting the record for fewest points allowed in a season with 165. Do you realize allowing 3, 10, and 3 in the AFC playoffs, that in 19 games they still bested the old 16 game record of the ’86 Bears 187 points with only 181?? Remember the Giants touchdown in Super Bowl XXXV was a kick return and not allowed by the defense. Still that is 188 points in 20 games!!

Ray Lewis' greatest season was the 2000 campaign.

Ray Lewis’ greatest season was the 2000 campaign.

To fully appreciate the Ravens season as a whole you have to understand how anemic an offense they carried. Their 16th ranked offense was the 2nd lowest of all Super Bowl champions.

For the season they were ranked 2nd overall allowing 247.9 yards per game. Yet #1 against the run setting the record for fewest yards allowed rushing in a 16 game season with only 970. Yielding a paltry 2.7 yds per carry when league average was 4.0. Baltimore held 11 of their 16 regular season opponents to 10 or fewer points. Four of which were shutouts. By the way, they also held all four of their postseason opponents to 10 or fewer for a total of 15!!

  • 2000 Baltimore Ravens allowed 970 yds rushing
  • 1985 Chicago Bears allowed 1,319 yds rushing
  • 1991 Philadelphia Eagles allowed 1,136 yds rushing
  • 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers allowed 1,457 yds rushing *14 games
  • 1977 Dallas Cowboys allowed 1,651 yds rushing *14 games
Boulware off the edge was a staple of Baltimore's pass rush.

Boulware off the edge was a staple of Baltimore’s pass rush.

This was a physically imposing defense that started with mountains in the middle in DTs Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams. Keeping blockers off 2000’s NFL Defensive Player of the Year in Ray Lewis. Who roamed free garnering 137 tackles, 3 sacks and an interception. It was one of the most dominating performances by a defensive player in league history. From The [[_]]

Fellow Linebackers Jamie Sharper (72 tackles /5 forced fumbles) and Peter Boulware clogged passing lanes, stuffed the run, and blitzed effectively. Boulware had 7 sacks as a Nickle rushing end. DE Rob Burnett led the team with (10.5 sacks) was a holdover from the Cleveland Browns days. He and fellow DE Michael McCrary were steady rushers that couldn’t be moved off the ball.

The most underappreciated aspect of this defense was the secondary. Led by Hall of Fame Safety Rod Woodson (77 tackles/ 4 forced fumbles /4 ints) this group was never out of position. They ranked 8th against the pass in 2000 yet were 2nd in passing TDs allowed with 11 while snatching 17 of the team’s 23 interceptions. Chris McAlister (4ints) and Duane Starks (6ints – The [[_]]) were top shelf corners and SS Kim Herring, Corey Harris, and Robert Bailey (The [[_]]) pounded TEs and slot receivers when teams went to multiple receiver sets.

During the season the Ravens were 1-1 against Pro Bowl quarterbacks and 2-0 against top 10 offenses. They held the NFL’s #2 offense to 3 points in their AFC Wildcard win. Yet this group was ranked #2 in 2000 and on their way to Super Bowl XXXV when they took on the #1 defense in the Tennessee Titans in the divisional round.

After vanquishing the Titans the Ravens had to go on the road to face the Oakland Raiders for the AFC Championship. In Oakland they faced the 6th best offense in football and the #1 rushing offense with 154.4 yards per game. Strength vs strength in a battle to make it to Super Bowl XXXV.

With their 16-3 win, you do realize this was only the 2nd time in the Super Bowl era a team hosted the conference championship and couldn’t score a touchdown, right?? Only the Baltimore Colts performed this with their 34-0 win over Art Modell’s Cleveland Browns for the 1968 NFL Championship prior to Super Bowl III. That is only twice in 70 games! The 2000 Baltimore Ravens were the greatest defensive 11 in NFL history and are #2 on The Chancellor of Football’s list. Why weren’t they #1?? That will be explained in the next article.

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At the 2016 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, ran into current Cincinnati Head Coach Marvin Lewis. The Defensive Coordinator of the 2000 Baltimore Ravens record setting defense.

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Top Ten Single Season Defenses in NFL History : #4 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers

Now how could we have a category on the best defenses and defenders in NFL history and not include the Pittsburgh Steelers?? As we moved into the 1970′s following the merger, we saw the hashmarks narrowed in 1974 and the goal posts moved to the end line to provide offenses more room to operate. Scoring had been down for much of the first half of the decade and it was thought this additional field to cover would hamper defenses. Especially those with burly MLB types that had limited range tracking sideline to sideline, or defending the pass.

No one could run on the '76 Steelers

No one could run on the ’76 Steelers

Enter Jack Lambert. A converted outside linebacker who stood 6’4 and stayed at a playing weight of 220 lbs. the majority of his career. What he brought to the table was the speed to get further back than the Willie Lanier’s and the Dick Butkus’, a prior generation’s middle linebackers who were mainly there to stuff the run. His ability to get past twenty yards in pass defense was the impetus for the Steelers to run what is NOW misnamed the “Tampa 2″.

It started in Pittsburgh because against the run and rushing the passer, Ernie Holmes, Joe Greene, Dwight White, and LC Greenwood were the finest front four of their era….possibly football history. Lambert, along with outside linebackers Andy Russell, and Jack Ham, only needed to clean up against the run and were already a step back ready to clog the middle and flat areas against the slower tight ends of that era. The result??

A defense put together from astute drafting grew into one of menace that powered the Steelers to victories in both Super Bowls IX and X. In Super Bowl IX the Steelers held the Vikings to just 17 yards rushing for the game. A record that stood until Super Bowl XX. They stood tall and defended against a frantic last second effort in Super Bowl X. So strong was the Steeler defense, Coach Chuck Noll ran the ball on 4th and 9 and let the Cowboys have the ball at their own 40 yard line leaving it up to the defense to win the game. While winning a second straight world title they set the Super Bowl record for sacks with 7.

A young team with an unprecedented chance to win a third straight Super Bowl went into the 1976 season with their front four in their prime.With Terry Bradshaw growing up as a quarterback and growing receivers John Stallworth and Lynn Swann with one of history’s finest defense….What would they do for an encore?? Could they threepeat??

This team was primarily responsible for the upcoming rule changes of 1978 and this was their best season. For the year they were #1 overall (237.4 y/pg) gave up just 138 points and held 7 of 8 straight opponents to 10 points or less. Five of those came by shutout and the first modern team to record 3 in a row. In fact they only allowed 2 touchdowns in the last 10 games and those came in the same game. A 32-16 win over the Oilers. They had a string of 25 quarters where they didn’t allow a touchdown. They were so good they had to be legislated out of business.

Starting in 1978 they instituted the “Mel Blount Rule” where receivers could only be jammed / hit within the first five yards of the scrimmage line. Blount was bludgeoning receives all down the field until the pass was thrown. Pass protectors were allowed to extend their arms to better protect against the Steel Curtain. The head slap was another tactic taken away from Pittsburgh’s charging front four in 1978. All of these rule changes can be traced back to this group.

RIP Coach Noll

RIP Coach Noll

One of the best in history and number 4 on The Chancellor of Football’s list.

Dedicated to the memories of Art Rooney, Chuck Noll, Ernie Holmes, LC Greenwood, & Dwight White.

Top Ten Single Season Defenses in NFL History : #5 1991 Philadelphia Eagles

A recurring theme that seems to be running through these greatest defenses were they had to carry anemic, inefficient offenses through the season. One such incident took place when the Philadelphia Eagles lost the 1990 NFL MVP in Randall Cunningham in the first week 1991. All appeared to be lost as they attempted to go on without their #1 weapon. This defense turned in one of the last truly great performances finishing #1 against the run, #1 against the pass, and obviously #1 overall.

1991 Pro Bowl members of the Eagles defense.

1991 Pro Bowl members of the Eagles defense.

When you carry a team that played five quarterbacks during the season, you’ve done something. We’re sure you remember that renowned NFL quarterback Brad Goebel or Pat Ryan, right?? Who?? Brad Goebel not Stan Gable…that’s a fictitious character from Revenge Of the Nerds.

As for real quarterbacks they had two games against the Redskins Mark Rypien, that year’s Super Bowl MVP. Two more against Hall of Famer Troy Aikman then one against Steve Young and Warren Moon. Also Hall of Fame members. All but Young made the Pro Bowl in 1991. They went 3-3 against them and held Young’s 49ers (#3 offensively) and Aikman’s Cowboys (#9 offensively) to less than 100 yards passing in two complete games that year.

Remember, Aikman and Young went on to face each other in 3 consecutive NFC Championships starting the following year and won the next four Super Bowls.

They faced 6 top 10 offenses going 3-3 against them. Defensively they held 6 opponents to 10 points or fewer. Two of those games were against top ten offenses as we mentioned earlier. Counting match-ups with divisional foes as individual games, 8 times they held their opposition to their lowest offensive output for the season.

Half the defense made the Pro Bowl starting with the late Reggie White, the late Jerome Brown, and Clyde Simmons from the defensive line. These three accounted for 37 of the Eagle’s 55 sacks. Those 3 alone had just 7 sacks fewer than the 2013 NFL champion Seahawks had as a team. OLB Seth Joyner (110 tck / 6.5 sacks / 6 ff /3 ints) and CB Eric Allen who picked off 5.

The only reason SS Andre Waters didn't make the Pro Bowl was his reputation.

The only reason SS Andre Waters didn’t make the Pro Bowl was his reputation.

Amazingly the late SS Andre Waters didn’t make the Pro Bowl even though he had 156 tackles. It was he and FS Wes Hopkins that sent the early message in their signature game against the Oilers. Did you know starting the very next week, when others used their 13-6 destruction against Houston as a blueprint, stats diminished for the Run & Shoot?? This performance was the impetus for the abolition of the Run & Shoot as a complete offensive approach in the NFL.

In winning 7 of their last 8 attempting to make the playoffs, the quarterback rating allowed was around 40.0. For the season, 206 of 467 (44.1%) for 2,807 yards 16 TDs and 26 interceptions would get a quarterback cut and ripped by NFL Network or ESPN shows. Well this was the passing given up by the 91′ Eagles all year.

Or think of it like this: Look at the ’91 Eagles performance against 6 top 10 offenses and 4 HOF QBs. Compare those stats to Geno Smith who was the worst rated QB last year:

  • Geno Smith – 247 of 443 (55.8%) 3,046 yds 12tds 21 ints
  • ’91 Eagles – 206 of 467 (44.1%) for 2,807 yards 16 TDs and 26 interceptions

One of the best in history and #5 on The Chancellor of Football’s list.apicofme3

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Top Ten Single Season Defenses in NFL History : #7 1977 Dallas Cowboys

For all the talk of the Gritz Blitz and the Orange Crush Defense in 1977, it was the year of The Doomsday Defense II. They faced off with the Denver Broncos down in New Orleans in Super Bowl XII and the better defense won. They carried their season statistical domination into that game and forced a then Super Bowl record 8 turnovers. This was the last NFL champion to finish #1 on defense and #1 on offense. In giving up just 229.5 yards per game, most don’t realize that was better than the 1978 champion Pittsburgh Steelers (260.5) or even the great ’76 version (237.5).

After Craig Morton was benched, Hollywood Henderson and Doomsday treated Norris Weese to a rough outing. Super Bowl XII

After Craig Morton was benched, Hollywood Henderson and Doomsday treated Norris Weese to a rough outing. In Super Bowl XII

Unofficially that year was the little known fact that DE Harvey Martin recorded 26 sacks. The league didn’t start keeping that statistic until 1981 or that would still be a record. It was arguably his best season as he was named All Pro and made the Pro Bowl. Surprisingly he was only joined by SS Charlie Waters, FS Cliff Harris, and DT Randy White.

Yet this group does have some knocks against it. They only faced 3 top ten offenses that year and gave up  212 points  for the season. The highest of our top ten. However they were 2-1 in those games and were the first Super Bowl champion to face their eventual Super Bowl opponent during the season. Winning the finale 14-6.

Supe Bowl XII Co-MVPs Randy White and the late Harvey Martin.

Supe Bowl XII Co-MVPs Randy White and the late Harvey Martin.

So why are they in the top ten??

The number one reason this group is here is this was the height of The Flex Defense. Their dominance was felt in a season long display. They held 7 of their 14 opponents to 10 points or less then became the first team since the merger to hold their 3 postseason opponents to 10 points or less. One of those was the #3 ranked offense of the  Chicago Bears and NFL rushing champion Walter Payton. He was held to 60 yards on 19 carries in a 37-7 win in the divisional round.

The havoc they raised in Super Bowl XII with 4 sacks, countless hurries that led to 4 interceptions on the biggest stage didn’t hurt. When half your line, DT Randy White and DE the late Harvey Martin, become the first defensive linemen to win Super Bowl MVP, that puts on an exclamation point on the season.

Other talents such as Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson who made his 1st Pro Bowl, made names for themselves as well. They would defend their championship in the following Super Bowl with the Pittsburgh Steelers where they ranked #2 in defense to the Steelers ranked third. That’s another story for a different time.

landry.2Epilogue: This was the crowning jewel in the late Tom Landry’s coaching career. Where he engineered a majority of the tactics to bring the 4-3 to be the modern staple of defense in the NFL. It was his ability to innovate that defense and come up with the Flex Defense to read and react as well as keep the Middle Linebacker (Bob Breunig) free of potential blockers.

Dedicated in the memory of both Tom Landry and Harvey Martin.

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My man Hollywood’s parting shot:

Hollywood Strikes Back!

Hollywood Strikes Back!

 

Top Ten Single Season Defenses in NFL History : #8 1975 Minnesota Vikings

Much like the “dead ball” era in major league baseball when pitchers dominated the 1960’s, NFL defenses in the ’70’s were the equivalent in football. Up in Minnesota, the Vikings used a dominant front four to limit opponents to 225.2 yards per game. Far and away the best in the league that year. In fact the ’75 Steelers, #9 on this list, was ranked 4th allowing 261.5 yards for the season. They only gave up 180 points or 12.3 pts per game in the ’75 campaign.

Interestingly this team didn’t use it’s cold weather advantage to compile these statistics. They played 3 of their final 4 games on the road. One of those came in the temperature controlled Silverdome against the Lions. Within their statistics you can definitely see their dominance. They held 6 teams to 10 points or less while ranking #1 against the pass (115.8 yds / gm) and #1 against the run (109.4 yds/ gm).  This team threatened to go undefeated bolting out to a 10-0 start.

NFL's All Time interception leader with 81. Paul Krause

NFL’s All Time interception leader with 81. Hall of Famer Paul Krause

Led by All Pro and Pro Bowl DT Alan Page, this group put significant pressure on the quarterback. Free Safety Paul Krause, the NFL’s all time leading interceptor had 10 on the season. He made the Pro Bowl in ’75 along with MLB Jeff Siemon who picked off 3 more passes and CB Bobby Bryant who snatched 6. They were 3rd in interceptions with 28.

The only knock on this group is they played just 2 top 10 offenses the entire year. However they did face the #1 ranked offense in the Buffalo Bills in the season finale. OJ was threatening for 2,000 again and playing at home, was held to 57 yards rushing to finish with 1,817. They held the Bills to just 13 points and forced them to miss the playoffs.

From this group, Alan Page, Paul Krause, and DE Carl Eller all made the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There are many who believe DE Jim Marshall should be in as well. This team went into the playoffs with a head of steam. They lost 17-10, when Roger Staubach hit Drew Pearson in the famous “Hail Mary” with :24 left in the NFC Divisonal Playoffs.

There stellar defensive season ranks 8th in The Chancellor of Football’s list.

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Top Ten Single Season Defenses in NFL History : #10 1986 Chicago Bears

Welcome to the second installment on the 10 greatest defenses in NFL history. We are off to a rousing start as folks are putting in their reasons for their teams and why the honorable mention units should have made the top ten list. Truth of the matter is all bias has to be removed and the great equalizers lie in the season statistics, play against strongest offenses during their year, and what precedents they set.  If one team is sitting in front of another for having set a precedent, a team with less stature or ranking cannot sit above them on the list.

So now we have to countdown to the single season defenses in NFL history starting with #10.

The best trio of linebackers in the game in Mike Singletary, Wilber Marshall, and Otis Wilson.

The best trio of linebackers in the game in Mike Singletary, Wilber Marshall, and Otis Wilson.

10. 1986 Chicago Bears –  A season after bludgeoning their way to the NFL title, this group was poised to repeat. If Mike Ditka would have stayed the course and not played Doug Flutie at quarterback who was on the team for four weeks, they would have. Having done so he robbed NFL fans of the greatest 2 year dynasty the NFL had ever seen. They were 15-1 in 1985 then went 14-2 which tied for the best record in the league that year. 29-3 over two seasons?? So why is this group in and the ’86 Giants and ’02 Bucs left off??

  • ’86 Bears – 187 pts allowed *NFL record / 10 of 16 opponents held to 10 or fewer points / 258.1 yds per game (1st) / 62 sacks (2nd) / 31 int. (2nd)
  • ’86 Giants- 236 pts allowed / 5 of 16 opponents held to 10 or fewer points *2 more in playoffs* / 297.3 yds per game (2nd) / 59 sacks (4th / 24 int. (tied 7th)
  • ’02 Bucs – 196 pts allowed / 9 of 16 opponents held to 10 or fewer points / 252.8 yds per game (1st) / 43 sacks (6th) / 31 int. (1st)

Furthermore in compiling these statistics the yardage difference between #1 & #2 in 1986 (258.1 to 297.3) is the second biggest difference since 1970. No way in hell you could say the Giants defense in 1986 was better than Chicago’s…no way.

In a year where two future Hall of Famers Dan Hampton (10 sacks) and Richard Dent (11.5 sacks) didn’t make the Pro Bowl, LB Wilber Marshall, DT Steve McMichael, late SS Dave Duerson, and MLB Mike Singletary did. All this before we bring up FS Gary Fencik. They were 2-1 against Pro Bowl quarterbacks. They split with the Vikings and Tommy Kramer beating him once 23-0. Then they pasted Boomer Esiason and the NFL’s #1 offense 44-7 on the road. By the way the Bengals were 10-6 that year and the Browns were 12-4 and played for the AFC Championship. The Bears beat them also. In fact they were 4-1 on the year vs top ten offenses.

This group had to drag a Bears offense that had been handicapped by the loss of Jim McMahon through several qbs that couldn’t complete 50% of their passes. The true reason the ’86 Bears didn’t win Super Bowl XXI and the ’86 Giants did was this incident right here. 

The defense drug a team with no offensive continuity to the best record in the NFL at 14-2. However since the 2 losses came within the NFC and only 1 of the Giants had, New York got homefield advantage. The Bears fell to the Redskins in the divisional round 27-13 behind 3 turnovers on their own side of the 50 in the 2nd half. Even the 10th best defense in NFL history could save them from that. As for would the ’86 Bears have beaten the ’86 Giants had they played?? The first game of 1987 had both teams healthy and the Bears, without McMahon again, won 34-19. Two of New York’s touchdowns were on defense and special teams.

The Bears season in microcosm was this game against the Lions:

This defense really should be higher but we’re starting the top ten off with a bang. Thanks for reading and please share the article.