Friday, February 11, 2011

Top 10 NFL Defenses

Ravens or Bears?
We continue to wade our way through football separation anxiety with another Top 10. The NFL's top 10 Defenses of All-Time. An often debated topic, this is where I stand on the issue. Enjoy!

10. 1975 Los Angeles Rams: Although they did not win a championship, the '75 Rams were a stout defense with a feared pass rush. Led by DE Jack Youngblood and LB Jack "Hacksaw" Reynolds, the Rams posted a 12-2 record before falling to the Cowboys in the NFC Championship. They led the League in '75 with 9.6 points allowed per game. The Rams also had 5 Pro Bowlers on defense that year, with Merlin Olsen, Fred Dryer, and Isiah Robertson joining Youngblood and Reynolds. Something worth noting about this team is that they defeated the Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers during the regular season by a score of 10-3. The Rams compiled 39 turnovers on the way to an NFC West Championship and the number 10 spot on my list.

9. 1969 Kansas City Chiefs: This was a team of redemption. After losing to the Packers in the first Super Bowl, the Chiefs stormed back on the heels of their defense to win Super Bowl IV in 1969. The '69 Chiefs were arguably the biggest and fastest defense that the NFL had ever seen at that time. It featured legends such as Willie Lanier and Bobby Bell at LB and Buck Buchanan at DT. Despite their defensive dominance, the Chiefs were frequent underdogs and entered the playoffs as a wildcard. The '69 playoffs was when their defense was most impressive. They limited the favored Jets and Raiders to a combined 13 points and then held the explosive Vikings offense to only 7 points in the Super Bowl. The Chiefs were first in takeaways with 47. Another noteworthy thing about this defense, is that they broke a taboo of the 60s by starting 8 Black players who other teams overlooked because of their skin. 
8. 1962 Green Bay Packers: Out of all of Lombardi's championship Packers teams, this defense was the greatest. They posted a 13-1 record en route to a 2nd consecutive NFL Championship. The defense featured 5 Hall of Famers including Henry Jordan, Willie Wood, Herb Adderley, Willie Davis, and the incomparable Ray Nitschke at MLB. They led the NFL in interceptions (31) and fewest passing yards allowed (2,084). They won their first four games by a combined score of 109-14. This was a team that completely and thoroughly dominated the League from start to finish. They beat a New York Giants team in the championship that desperately sought revenge from the '61 championship game, and yet they could not muster an offensive TD against the Packers. This defense was the cornerstone of the Packers' 1960s dynasty.

7. 1971 Minnesota Vikings: The "Purple People Eaters" were, without a doubt, the best defense to never win a Super Bowl title. Their defensive line was anchored by two Hall of Famers in Carl Eller and Alan Page. They were first in the NFL in points allowed per game with 9.9. They went into the playoffs with an 11-3 record and the title of NFC Central champs, but lost at home to the eventual Super Bowl champion, Dallas Cowboys. The Vikings posted three shutout victories during the regular season. Although they are remembered for their suffocating pass rush and fearsome defensive line, this defense also featured a Hall of Fame free safety in the form of Paul Krause. The Purple People Eaters were consistently stalwart throughout the late 60s and 70s. They were right up there with Doomsday and the Steel Curtain.

6. 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs went from being one of the NFLs worst teams to Super Bowl Champions in 2002, entirely thanks to their defense. Their defense had a stud at every level: Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice on defensive line, Derrick Brooks at LB, Ronde Barber at CB, and John Lynch at safety. They were the first ever NFC South champs and crushed the Raiders and their #1 offense in the Super Bowl, 48-21. Speed was key on this defense. At times, it seemed their defense scored more points than the offense did. They were also clutch when shutting down mobile QBs like Vick and McNabb when they were at the top of their game.

5. 1971/1977 Dallas Cowboys: Both Doomsday I and II deserve a spot on this list, and because they were so close in time, I'm letting them share the 5th spot. Both Doomsdays featured Super Bowl MVPs and Hall of Famers. Names like Bob Lilly, Chuck Howley, Lee Roy Jordan, Thomas Henderson, Harvey Martin, and Randy White are legends in both Texas and Canton. The Cowboys of the 70s were often called a finesse team because of Landry's complicated offense, but the defenses proved that there was nothing soft about these Cowboys. '71 and '77 were Championship seasons, but Dallas also reached the Super Bowl in '70, '75, and '78 where they lost to the Colts and Steelers. The point is, the Cowboys were consistently the best team in the NFC and twice they were the best in the land. Much thanks to Doomsday.

4. 1990 New York Giants: Many will raise cane and say that the '86 Giants deserve this spot, but I'm giving it two the '90 Giants for two main reasons. First, Phil Simms was injured most of the season and the defense carried the team to the Super Bowl almost on their own. Second, once in the Super Bowl, the Giants stymied the NFL's best offense in the Buffalo Bills and played a ball control game to win the game. Giant defensive greats like Jim Burt and Harry Carson were no longer on the team in 1990, but Carl Banks was still there and a certain other LB that many consider the best ever. I'm speaking of course, about Lawrence Taylor. He was feared by QBs and RBs alike. He played a complete game every time he was on the field and led this team to its second Super Bowl championship in 1990. 

3. 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers: Widely regarded as the best defense of the 70s, the Steel Curtain epitomized smash-mouth football. The '75 Steelers in particular were stacked from top to bottom with Hall of Famers. Jack Lambert, Jack Ham, "Mean Joe" Greene, Mel Blount, and LC Greenwood are just a few of the names from this defense that need no introduction. In '75 the Steelers held 7 opponents to single digit scores. They only allowed 17 touchdowns in the regular season and scored 2 themselves off of fumble recoveries. The Steelers won their second consecutive Super Bowl in '75 against the Dallas Cowboys thanks in large part to their defense. The Steel Curtain was balanced and aggressive. They could defend every aspect of the game and deserve most of the credit for the Steelers' dynasty of the '70s. 

2. 1985 Chicago Bears: It would be a mortal sin not to include the "Da Bears" and their vaunted 4-6 Defense in the top 2 of any defensive top 10. The revolutionary 4-6 was based entirely on pressuring the QB and it was sweepingly successful. Nobody could do anything against this defense. Besides the scheme, this defense also had its share of legends, such as Mike Singletary, Steve McMichael, Dan Hampton, and William "the Refrigerator" Perry. They displayed on of the most dominating performances in Super Bowl history, beating the Patriots 46-10. They finished the season 15-, including a 12-0 start. Their only loss came against none other than the Miami Dolphins, who were hell bent on defending their title as the NFLs only undefeated champ. The Bears forced 54 turnovers in '85 and two players finished with double-digit sacks.

1. 2000 Baltimore Ravens: In my mind, there was no better defense than the Ravens in 2000. Led by Ray Lewis, the Ravens defense WAS the team, and was the reason that they won the Super Bowl. Their offense just plain sucked, so the defense HAD to be exceptional. Outstanding players like Chris McAllister, Rod Woodson, and Sam Adams made their marks on this defense. They made a habit out of setting records. They allowed the fewest points in a season (165) and fewest rushing yards (970) and pitched 4 shutouts. From top to bottom, you could not find a weakness on this defense. All the Ravens ever had to do was put up 10-14 points on offense and the defense would win the game. As far as a defense goes, it simply does not get any better than that. I don't know that we will ever see another defense that's truly on the same level as this 2000 Ravens team.

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