Jon Somerset (@Orangeman3142) takes a historical look at the best defensive coordinators in NFL history, buckle up for the IDP Guys 30 for 30!
As we close in on the start of the regular season, things are starting to heat up around the league. Hard Knocks started this week, and there are a ton of preseason games this weekend. Leagues are starting to hold their drafts and NFL Twitter is abuzz with news from the different training camps.
While watching an episode of “Americas Game” on the NFL Network the other night I had an idea for a series of articles. The episode in question was about the 85′ Bears and their super bowl run with defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan and his innovative 4-6 defense that strangled the life out of nearly every opponent Chicago faced that season.
I decided right then that I would compile a good sized list of the greatest defensive coordinators to every coach in the league and the defenses associated with them. I sent out a Twitter poll asking who most people thought had the greatest defense of all time in the NFL and got a lot more than I bargained for.
Greatest NFL Defense of all time??? Comment if other.
— Johny The Greek (@OrangeMan3142) August 8, 2018
Expecting just a few votes and some comments I sit here more than 1,500 votes later (on just part 1 of the poll, I ended up doing 2 parts due to so many people asking for certain teams) and am ready to embark on this look into some of the greatest defenses in the history of the NFL and the men behind them.
Greatest NFL Defense part 2, comment if other and they weren't in part 1.
— Johny The Greek (@OrangeMan3142) August 8, 2018
1985 Chicago Bears And More
We’ll start with the team and coordinator that ended up with the most votes by a pretty good margin, the 1985 Chicago Bears and their defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan. He created the 4-6 defense and coached one of if not the most dominant NFL defenses to ever step onto the field. I was amazed to learn that Ryan started his career as the defensive line coach of the New York Jets, and won his first ring in Super Bowl 3 with that team. He was also the defensive line coach of the Minnesota Vikings and coached the famous “Purple People Eaters”.
I had no idea about Ryan being behind the purple people eaters, knowing he was partly responsible for their success as well as the 85′ Bears success firmly plants him as the #1 defensive coordinator in NFL history, as far as I’m concerned. During Ryans time with the Vikings he began work on a nickel defensive scheme that would eventually lead to the 4-6 defense. Ryan introduced this 4-6 defense to the Bears in 1978 after George Halas brought him in as defensive coordinator but it wasn’t perfected until 1981.
The 4-6 defense was named after the jersey number of safety Doug Plank who played a key part in the scheme as the Bears strong safety and surrogate linebacker in this scheme. The 4-6 was designed to stop a passing attack but was also extremely efficient at stopping the run since by design it is a 8 man in the box defense. This alignment allowed Ryan to send as many as eight pass rushers each down and the pre-snap formation was deceiving for the opposing quarterback who was unsure how many blitzers, if any, he would face each down.
When asked about it Ryan once said, “To stop a passing game, you can’t stop it unless you put pressure on it. Now some people are good enough to put it on with a three-man rush; well, we’re not. In fact, I don’t know whether we’re good enough to put it on with a four-man rush. If we have to send eight, we’ll send eight, but we’re not going to let you sit back there and pick us apart.”
The NFL had never seen anything like this defense and it was remarkably effective, especially during the 1985 season. The only team that was able to effectively negate it were the Dolphins, who took advantage of Dan Marino’s quick release and timed routes to get the ball out before the rush could get to him. They were the outlier though, in 1985 the Bears defense finished 1st in points allowed (198) and let up an average of about 12 points per game during the regular season. That defense also finished first in yards allowed (4,135), rush yards allowed (1,319), first downs (236), opposing rush TDs (6), interceptions (34) and takeaways (54).
Those stats are unreal. That’s 258 yards per game allowed, 82 rush yards per game, 14 first downs per game, and 0.37 rushing TDs allowed per game, jeeesus. Also they had 2.1 INTs per game for the Bears and 3.3 takeaways per game for the Bears. And that was just the regular season.
During the postseason Buddy Ryan’s Bears became the only team in NFL history to record two shutouts in the postseason. They held the Giants to 181 total yards and zero points in the divisional round and the Rams only 130 total yards and no points in the NFC Championship game. The Bears had the same amount of takeaways as total points allowed to opposing teams throughout those playoffs (10). And they won the Super Bowl as well that year holding the Patriots to 10 points and totally blowing the doors off them in a 36 point victory (46-10).
That’s one hell of a case for the greatest defense of all time. It’s not going to be easy to beat that kind of dominance. In 2nd place on my Twitter poll is the team and coordinator that I think may have a chance of dethroning the 85′ Bears.
2000 Baltimore Ravens
The 2000 Baltimore Ravens led by defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis finished 2nd overall in my Twitter poll of the NFLs greatest defenses. Lewis is the current coach of the Bengals and is one of the longest tenured coaches with one team in NFL history. Not only did Lewis coach one of the greatest defenses in NFL history he also assembled a notable defensive coaching tree beneath him including Rex Ryan as defensive line coach, Jack Del Rio as linebackers coach and Mike Smith as defensive assistant. Marvin Lewis is not commonly seen on many of the “greatest defensive coordinators” lists I’ve perused over the past few days but what his 2000 Ravens defense accomplished was incredible.
The 2000 Ravens let up a total of 165 points in the regular season for an average of 10.3 points per game. To put that in perspective the 85′ Bears let up 198 points for an average of 12.3 points per game. That’s 2 points per game better than the defense most consider to be the greatest of all time. During their postseason run the Ravens played four games (they were a wildcard) and let up a total of 23 points for an average of 5.75 points per game.
The 85′ Bears let up 10 points in three games during their postseason run for an average of 3.3 points per game so they take the edge here just slightly. The Ravens gave up 259 yards per game during the regular season beating the 85′ Bears total of 289 YPG by 30, giving the Ravens yet another win in defensive stats. Both these teams finished the season #1 in turnover differential. When it comes to regular season shutouts the Ravens edge out the Bears here too with 4 to Chicagos 2.
Both of these teams cruised to the super bowl and both played excellent in the final game. The Ravens held the Giants to 152 net yards and 7 points while forcing 5 turnovers (4 INTs and 1 FF) in the process of completely blowing New York away and securing their Super Bowl win. The Bears also were dominant in their 85′ Super Bowl win with only 123 yards given up and 4 turnovers forced (2 INT 2 FF) while holding the Patriots to 10 points.
Another crazy stat from the Ravens 2000 season was that when their offense scored at least 7 points they were undefeated in both the regular season and playoffs. Looking at the stats of both these teams I am blown away by their dominance, as we continue to look at some of the greatest defenses of all time and the coordinators behind them I think we’ll have a tough time finding a defense better than these 2 were.
Keep an eye out for part 2 of this series where we take a look at the Steel Curtain and the Purple People Eaters, the 3rd and 4th ranked greatest defenses of all time according to my Twitter poll. Down the road we’ll also be looking at the 2015 Broncos and Wade Phillips, the 2014 Seahawks and Brian Quinn as well as Dick Lebeau, Monty Kiffen, Romeo Crenell, Bill Belicheck, Jim Johnson, Tom Landry and a few others.
This is probably going to be a months long series so stay tuned, when it’s all said and done we’ll have taken a good look at the minds and defenses that are the greatest of all time.