Throughout the past few seasons, the mantra surrounding the Seattle Seahawks was “Defense! Defense! Defense!” Okay, so maybe they were also noted for their frenzied fan base, bruising rushing attack, and willingness to open their mouths. But, make no mistake, that defense is what most people will remember most about this team, particularly from last season. They were dominant throughout the season, and judging by how they finished the season off, there’s no doubt this crew was one of the best ever. But, just where do they rank on my list of greatest NFL defenses ever? Let’s find out.
10) 1973 Miami Dolphins
Best known as the “No Name” defense, this one faced the daunting task of following the NFL’s only undefeated season. While the team failed to do that, the “No Name” defense did manage to win the Super Bowl that season, their second in a row. The only player whose name has stood the test of time on this squad is Hall of Famer Nick Buoniconti, but he was far from the only great player on it. Defensive end Bill Stanfill recorded 18.5 sacks that year, a team record that still stands. Not only did those two make the All-Pro team that year, nose tackle Manny Fernandez, safety Jake Scott(the previous Super Bowl’s MVP), and Defensive Player of the Year Dick Anderson did as well.
The 1973 Miami Dolphin’s defense allowed a record-low 150 points in 14 games, while shutting attaining two shutouts, allowing single digits five other times, and surrendering just 16 and 12 points in the team’s two losses. In the playoffs, they got better by the game, allowing just 16 points to the Cincinnati Bengals in the Divisional Playoffs, while holding a potent Oakland Raiders offense to simply 10 in the AFC Championship. Most impressive of all, they allowed only one touchdown to Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton’s Minnesota Vikings in the Super Bowl, allowing the lone score with only 1:35 left in the game.
So, why was this defense ranked #10 on this list? Well, the other teams were just that great.
9) 1990 New York Giants
It was really hard to rank this defense so low on this list, believe me. This squad was a truly great one, but upon further evaluation, the number nine spot is a fairly accurate one to put them in. Led by Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor, this defense allowed jst over 13 points per game in the regular season, and was even better in the playoffs. They allowed just a field goal against the Chicago Bears in the divisional round, upset Joe Montana’s San Fransisco 49er’s dynasty in San Fran by allowing only 13, and allowed just 19 points against the Buffalo Bills in the Super Bowl. So, what’s the problem. Not much, but when you consider the fact that Bill’s kicker Scott Norwood missed the biggest kick of his life to allow the Giants to win the Super Bowl, as well as the fact that this defense wasn’t as dominant as some of the others on this list, and you’ll see that ninth is the perfect spot for them.
8) 1969 Kansas City Chiefs
While it’s easy to wonder why this defense is ranked above the ’73 Dolphins, a simple answer would be playoffs. The “Triple Stack” defense allowed a grand total of 20 points in the playoffs: six to the defending champion New York Jets, seven to the league’s top team, the Oakland Raiders, and seven to Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV. Also, all of these games were on the road or a neutral site. However if that’s not enough to convince you of their greatness, don’t worry, I’ve got more reasons to give out!
Led by five Hall of Famers, linebackers Burt Bell and Willie Lanier, as well as defensive tackles Buck Buchanan and Curley Culp, and cornerback Emmitt Thomas, the 1969 Chiefs defense became just the fourth unit in NFL History to possess the league’s best pass defense, rush defense, and total defense. Allowing just 177 points in 14 games that season, this defense shut out two teams, and held three others to single digits, while helping pave the way to an 11-3 regular season record.
7) 2013 Seattle Seahawks
Allowing a meager 14 points per game in the regular season, this stingy defense had greatness throughout. However, it was their secondary, the “Legion of Boom”, which led the way. Cornerback Richard Sherman may be considered the ringleader of the crew, but Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor each played like All-Pros throughout the season. The team allowed less than 10 points on five different occasions in the regular season, and allowed more than 20 points only three times. While one can easily argue that the teams ranked below should be ranked higher than this squad, the fact that they shut down an elite New Orleans Saints offense for seven out of eight quarters, and allowed just one score to the greatest statistical offense ever, gives the Seattle Seahawks the edge.
6) 1991 Philadelphia Eagles
One of the worst teams to have a truly elite defense were the 1991 Philadelphia Eagles. The defense was anchored by late, great Hall of Fame defensive lineman Reggie White, whose All-Pro defensive line also starred the late Reggie Brown, as well as Clyde Simmons. This marks the only season where a team had three defensive linemen make the Pro Bowl. The two other aspects of the defense were also led by pro bowlers, as Seth Joiner commandeered the linebacking corp, while cornerback Eric Allen was deemed the leader of the secondary. This defense allowed under four yards per play, less than three yards per rush. However, these stats do not convey just how legendary this defensive squadron was.
The 1991 Eagles defense was #1 in pass defense, rush defense, and total defense, which marked just the fifth time in NFL history to accomplish this feat, and is the most recent team to do so. They also led the NFL in sacks and turnovers forced. Their 48 takeaways was the most by any team in any season during the 90s. The one glaring stat about this defense is the points allowed: 244. That’s a tad bit high for a “great” defense, but when you take into consideration just how inept the Eagles were on offense after losing starting quarterback Randall Cunningham to a torn ACL in week one, 244 might as well be 144.
5) 1977 Atlanta Falcons
Ladies and gentleman, allow me to introduce to you the most questionable ranking on this list: the 1977 Atlanta Falcon’s “Grits Blitz” defense. To start off, let me explain the offense in a few words: it stunk. In fact, it was so bad that they reached 20 points only once, and failed to score more than 7 in half of their games. They had a game where they won by a score of 7-0 against the 49ers, while managing to lose to the Buffalo BIlls 3-0. In 14 games, the offense scored only 179 points, which is about as pitiful as it gets. That defense, though, managed to allow 50 points less than that, which is an NFL record for a 14-game season.
They held opponents to single digits on eight occasions, allowed less than 100 passing yards a game(1,342 in 14 games), and just 3,242 total yards. What makes this defense such a quandary is that they were not only a true “No Name” defense, but also the ultimate one-hit wonder. They sent only two players to the Pro Bowl: cornerback Rolland Lawrence and recent Pro Football Hall of Fame Inductee Claude Humphrey. However, they bookended this season with one of the league’s worse defenses in 1976, while relapsing to a similar level in 1978.
As a result of the flukiness of this defense, the most notable person on this defense was not a player, but a coach: Defensive Assistant Jerry Glanville. The future head coach developed the “Grits Blitz” defense, in which nine players blitz on every down. As a result, the opposing offense is usually in flux, especially on passing downs, which resulted in the record low amount of passing yards allowed. The team only won seven games that season, which is another key reason why this defense is so unknown to many NFL fans. However, had this defense not been so great, the 1977 Atlanta Falcons would have been lucky to win a single game!
4) 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
While I admit that I did ponder the thought of switching this defense’s rank with that of the ’77 Falcons, that thought did not last very long.While the Bucs had boasted great defenses and horrendous offenses for the past few season, and things seemed status quo througout the 2002 season, the defense was actually better than ever. After a rocky start to the season with a 26-20 overtime loss at home to the division rival New Orleans Saints, this defense turned it up several notches. In the remaining 15 games of the regular season, this unit held nine teams to 10 points or less, shutting out two of them, and allowed just 196 points in the regular season. In the playoffs, they began by making the Terrell Owens led San Francisco 49ers look like a bunch of rookies, pounding the by a score of 31-6. Due to their defense, the Bucs finally got past the high powered Philadelphia Eagles on the road in the NFL Championship game.
It was in the Super Bowl, however, much like this season’s Seattle Seahawks, where this defense proved it’s unholy might. Against the offensive juggernaut that was the Oakland Raider’s offense, The Bucs picked off Rich Gannon a Super Bowl record five time, returning three of them for touchdowns. Dwight Smith returned two of the touchdowns for scores.
Unlike the previous defenses on this list, the 2002 Buccaneers were stacked with elite talent. They were led by Hall of Famers Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks, each of whom is considered amongst the best to play his position. Future Hall of Fame hopefuls John Lynch and Ronde Barber anchored the vaunted secondary, while Dexter Jackson and Dwight Smith were the ones to pick off Rich Gannon in the Super Bowl twice each. Another potential Hall of Famer, defensive end Simeon Rice, who boasts 122 career sacks, led the team with 15.5 that season. This defense truly was a special one.So, because of their longevity, talent, and postseason dominance, I had to rank this defense over the ’77 Falcons.
3) 2000 Baltimore Ravens
Honestly, there are so many reasons why this defense was great, that I won’t even write complete sentences. Instead, I’ll simply list this defense’s accomplishments and players.
- 165 points allowed (NFL Record)
- 970 rush yards allowed (NFL record)
- 26 forced fumbles
- 4 shutouts
- Back to back shutouts
- 9 teams held to single digits
- Held teams under 20 points 13 times
- 23 points allowed in 4 playoff games, including Super Bowl.
- Then record 4 interceptions in Super Bowl.
- Key Players: linebackers Peter Boulware and Ray Lewis (2000 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, future 1st ballot Hall of Famer), defensive ends Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams, cornerbacks Duane Starks and Hall of Famer Rod Woodson.
2) 1985 Chicago Bears
Do I really need to explain this? Fine, I will. While one can argue that this defense wasn’t as statistically great as some of the lowed ranked ones, it’s not hard for me to argue against you. They allowed only 198 points in the regular season. The team held seven opponents to single digits, including a 36-0 beatdown of the falcons, and a 44-0 drubbing of a Dallas Cowboys team that won 10 games that year, in Texas stadium.
Gary Fencik was the leader of the secondary, Richard Dent, William “Refrigerator Perry, and Dan Hampton led the front four, and middle linebacker Mike Singletary was the heart and center of this tenacious defense. If you’re still not convinced, just take a look at what they did in the playoffs. The Bears’ stingy D allowed 0 points against the New York Giants and the then-Los Angeles Rams, before allowing just 10 in the Super Bowl against the New Englan Patriots. That’s right folks, this defense really was as spectacular as legend has it.
1) Pittsburgh Steeler’s “Steel Curtain”
This was a tough choice to put at #1, but not when one looks at the list of players on this defense. “Mean Joe” Greene. Jack Lambert. Jack Ham. LC Greenwood. Mel Blount. Back in the day, these guys were the best at their positions, and today, they are still widely regarded as the greatest defensive unit ever. If there was a single season where this defense’s prowess stood out the most, it would be the 1976 squad. While the Steelers didn’t win the Super Bowl that season, they overcame a dismal 1-4 start due to the sheer dominance of this defense. Facing stiff competition on a consistent basis(their opponent’s average win percentage was .528), the defense allowed a paltry 28 points in the regular season’s final nine games(only 14 games back then), and led the squad to the AFL Championship games. Oh, and the four Super Bowls in the 1970’s doesn’t hurt their cause, either.
So, there you go. This is my list of the ten greatest defenses in NFL history. Disagree? If so, leave a comment and let me know why.
Sources: behindthesteelcurtain.com, ESPN page 2.