In the fourth installment of this series, Jon Somerset (@Orangeman3142) acknowledges criticism of the series, and then dives into the 2013 Seahawks and 2015 Broncos defenses and coordinators.
Writers Note: Defenses discussed in this series were selected from a series of Twitter polls. The results and comments from them informed who made the list and who didn’t. If your team hasn’t been discussed in this series yet, it’s either because of the over 2,500 people who participated in the polls none of them thought your team was considered one of the “greatest of all time” OR I’ll be covering them later in the series. If they are an all time defense it’s probably option two and keep reading the series, I’ll get to them soon enough. If they aren’t going to be covered, complaining in the comments won’t change the fact that almost three thousand people voted on this series and if none of them thought your particular team qualifies for “greatest all time” then they’re probably right.
Let’s Take A Step Back First
In this edition of the series we’ll be looking at two teams from the twitter poll I put out asking who everyone thought were the greatest defenses of all time, the 2013 Seahawks and the 2015 Broncos. Despite not doing so hot in the polls they are still obviously in good company and even being considered one of the eight greatest defenses of all time, is pretty outstanding. These two fanbases, Seattle fans in particular, really tried to bend the stats in every conceivable way to convince me that they were better than the 2000 Ravens or 85′ Bears, so when it comes to loyal and rabid fanbases, these two teams would’ve won in my book.
In part 3 we looked at how much scoring throughout the league has increased in the last two decades and found some surprising results. In 2000 the league average for points per game was 20.7, last year it was 21.7. So despite me and many other people being totally convinced that due to rule changes and increased passing offense points per game would’ve increased by quite a bit, I was blown away to see it has only been one point per game. This was the most common argument thrown my way when it came to the two defenses we’ll be talking about today: that teams scored far fewer points when the 2000 Ravens had their all time great defensive season, and that rule changes have resulted in more offense now as well.
Do The New Stats Really Change Any Conclusions?
I was told several times by Seattle fans to recompute my stats with this in mind and now that I’ve looked into it we can all do that. In 2013 NFL offenses scored 23.4 points per game, up 2.7 PPG from the 2000 (Ravens great defensive season) average of 20.7 points per game. That’s a difference of 2.7 PPG (times 16 games in a season equals 43.2). So we can subtract 43 points from the 2013 Seahawks total points allowed (231) and come up with an adjusted total of 188 points allowed for the season.
That’s still 23 points more given up than the 2000 Ravens and 411 more yards allowed, plus the 2000 Ravens had 10 more turnovers. So even with all the mental gymnastics of adjusting stats for increased scoring the Seahawks best statistical season still falls short of what the 2000 Ravens were able to achieve. It’s even worse if you compared the 2014 version of the Seahawks defense using the increased scoring adjustments. Like I’ve been saying this entire series; the stats don’t lie.
As we saw in part 3, a further look reveals that average points per game actually fluctuates from year to year but, since 2000 it has never been more than 2.7 points per game better than the 20.7 points per game average from 2000. And that was in 2013, since then scoring has actually decreased even with the rule changes and emphasis on protecting offensive skill players.
What we’ve all had in our heads, well what I had in mine anyways, that scoring had gone up significantly since the late 90s and early 00s, is just plain wrong. Sure, it has gone up somewhat, but nowhere near what we all thought it would even with the NFL doing its best to produce more offense.
Diving into the 2013 Seattle Seahawks Legion of Boom
So now that we’ve gotten that out of the way let’s get into these two defenses and the coordinators behind them. Anyone who knows me is aware that the Seahawks aren’t really my cup of tea, I wasn’t a fan to begin with and their choke job against the Patriots in 14′ sealed their fate in my mind. Run the ball, guy.
But when I looked into what Dan Quinn put together in the Legion of Boom, I gained a newfound respect for a defense that was truly amazing and made Peyton Manning look like Nathan Peterman in the biggest game of the season. When it comes to IDP I’ve always had a respect for Seattles Legion of Boom, Bobby Wagner has been an incredible LB1 for quite some time and Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and various members of that defensive line have been important parts of some of my best IDP defenses over the years.
We’ll be looking at Dan Quinns history, the Legion of Boom, defensive stats from the 2013 Super Bowl season and the legacy left by that team.
The 2015 Broncos were one of my favorite defenses I’ve watched in quite some time, while I respected the 13′ Seahawks I didn’t enjoy watching them, whereas I truly enjoyed watching the 15′ Broncos and especially what they did to first the Patriots (my least favorite NFL team) then to the Panthers (my 2nd least favorite NFL team). Cam Newton getting his world rocked by Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware in that Super Bowl was the highlight of that season for me and I really enjoyed watching Wade Phillips’ guys do their thing and take home the title.
We’ll be looking at Wade Phillips and the defense he created that, let’s be real here, carried Peyton Manning on their backs throughout that whole season and to the Super Bowl, then saved their best performance for last, shutting down the explosive and #1 ranked Carolina offense to take home the Lombardi Trophy. We’ll cover their stats and all the relevant details from that magical 2015 season.
Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn
While the Legion of Boom was assembled over time by general manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carrol it was Dan Quinn that made it run smooth. An impressive assembly of talent, personalities and ego somehow managed to keep their shit in check and work together for both the 2013 and 2014 seasons and the result were two years of defensive dominance and two Super Bowl trips.
Dan Quinn is the man mainly responsible for that. Quinn started his NFL career as the 49ers defensive line coach and defensive quality control coordinator. He then had jobs as the defensive line coach for both the Jets and Dolphins before heading back to his college roots to be the defensive coordinator for Florida. In 2013 he returned to Seattle and was their defensive coordinator for both the 2013 and 2014 seasons, two of their best defensive seasons in franchise history.
He parlayed his work there into his current head coaching job with the Atlanta Falcons. Under Quinn’s guidance the 2013 Seahawks finished that season 1st in points per game allowed and yards per game allowed and cruised through the playoffs to the Super Bowl where they completely annihilated Peyton Manning and the Broncos 43-8.
He was able to keep the momentum going for most of the 2014 season as well where the Seattle defense finished 1st in points per game allowed and yards per game allowed once more, however as we all know they were unable to take home the Lombardi Trophy that year due to a legendary brain fart by Pete Carol.
2013 Seahawks ‘Legion of BOOM’
We’ll concentrate on the 2013 edition of Dan Quinn’s Seahawks since they won the Super Bowl, had a better points per game average than the 2014 team and accounted for 15 more takeaways. The 2014 team did better in yards per game average but clearly the 2013 Seahawks were the best example of the Legion of Boom. They finished the regular season 1st in points per game allowed (14.4) and yards per game allowed (273) while also leading the league in takeaways (39).
They beat Drew Brees and the Saints in the divisional round 23-15 in a close game where their defense didn’t perform as well as they had during the season. They only forced one turnover and allowed the Saints to throw for 301 yards and rush for an additional 108. However, when crunch time came they were able to clamp down and secure a trip to the NFC title game.
They next played the 49ers and Colin Kapernick, this is the game where Sherman deflected the last second pass to Crabtree to pull out the win. The Legion of Boom forced three turnovers, two interceptions and a fumble, to stop the 11th ranked San Francisco offense dead in their tracks and win a shot at the Super Bowl.
They would face Peyton Manning and the Broncos in the Super Bowl, facing off against one of the most explosive offenses in NFL history. This was the season where Manning set the single season touchdown record with 55 passing touchdowns. The Broncos entered the title game overall #1 in points per game, yards per game and an offense that put up 5,477 yards receiving with 55 receiving TDs and another 1,873 yards on the ground with 16 rushing TDs.
This Denver offense was one of if not the greatest offense in the history of the NFL and it was up to the Legion of Boom to try and at least slow it down enough to make the game competitive. They did that and much more.
The Seahawks defense started fast causing a safety 12 seconds into the game to take a 2-0 lead. Over the course of the next 59 minutes and 48 seconds they would force four turnovers and hold arguably the greatest offense of all time to eight total points in the most important game of the season. Manning would be forced into two intereptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown by Malcolm Smith, and a fumble.
The Legion of Boom would force an additional fumble and hold the Broncos offense to 279 passing yards, one of their lowest totals of the entire season. They would force four fumbles and recover two of them and add a sack for good measure. The LOB also held firm on all of Denvers 4th down attempts, the Broncos were 0-3 on 4th down for the game.
Manning was flustered the entire game and the Denver run game couldn’t get anything going either, being held to 27 yards on the ground. In the end Seattle dominated time of possession and dictated the game from start to finish, they would go on to win their first Super Bowl 43-8. This great defense would put up similar stats the next season in 2014 and were a play away from winning back to back Super Bowls but we all know how that went.
What was truly impressive though was how this defense shut down one of the greatest offenses of all time led by a hall of fame quarterback in the biggest game of the season. The 2013 Seahawks truly were one of the greatest defenses of all time.
Defensive Coordinator Wade Philips
Wade Phillips is the son of legendary NFL coach Bum Phillips and is most commonly associated with the Stay Puffed Marshmallow Man. Despite not having the greatest luck as an NFL head coach, Wade Phillips has been the architect of some of the best defenses in the NFL as their coordinator. Wade Phillips began his NFL career as a defensive line coach for the Houston Oilers, working with his dad, head coach Bum Phillips.
His first defensive coordinator job came with the New Orleans Saints. He would also work as defensive coordinator for the Eagles, Broncos, Bills, Falcons, Chargers, Texans and currently the LA Rams. During his career he has had a few head coaching jobs as well with the Bills, Cowboys, Texans, Falcons and Broncos, sometimes in an intern basis.
His loss to the Tennessee Titans in the 1999 playoffs (music city miracle) haunted him for years afterwards and Wade didn’t think he’d ever be part of a Super Bowl winning team. That all changed when he took over as defensive coordinator for the Broncos in 2015, this was his second stint with the Broncos as defensive coordinator, a job he had held once before in 1989.
Phillips created an incredible pass rush with linebackers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. Wades new defense would record 52 sacks in their Super Bowl winning 2015 season, easily finishing first place in total sacks for the season. His pass rush was so dominant and caused so much havoc that the effect of it turned the secondary into a terrific unit as well as they accounted for 14 interceptions that same season.
Wherever Phillips has gone he has taken his love of a good pass rush with him, it was on display in Dallas, Houston and San Diego before he brought it to Denver. Look at the Rams this year, with that talent and Phillips pass rush schemes I don’t think anyone would be surprised if they led the league in sacks this upcoming season. While Wade Phillips was certainly capable of putting together a good defensive scheme he would luck out when it came to the talent he would inherit in Denver.
2015 Denver Broncos
The 2015 Broncos defense was absolutely loaded. Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Aquib Talib, Chris Harris and many others you would instantly recognize. While they may not have had all time stats, they finished 1st in yards allowed per game and 4th in points per game allowed, while adding 27 takeaways and a league leading 52 sacks.
The pass rush was how this defense did it’s best work. Watching Cam Newton become jumpy in the pocket during that years Super Bowl was the perfect example of how this defense did its work. They made opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable, very. They allowed 18.5 points per game and 283 yards per game and finished the regular season with a 12-4 record. They were a throwback team in an era of massive offensive stats being the norm, these guys ran and played defense, and it worked.
They would first play the Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional round of the playoffs, no easy feat with Big Ben and company to deal with. In a strange game that saw eight field goals and only two touchdowns the Broncos defense held firm and held Pittsburgh to 16 points on one touchdown and three field goals. They caused one turnover and sacked Big Ben three times for negative 28 yards. Denver forced two fumbles and recovered one and in the end did enough to win and advance although it certainly wasn’t pretty.
In the AFC Championship game they would face the despised Patriots. This game was a real knife fight. The Denver defense clamped down on the Patriots running game and held them to 44 rushing yards and made them one-dimensional. With the Patriots forced to pass early and often, Denver took advantage and picked off Brady twice and sacked him four times for negative 18 yards.
The Patriots scored late and needed a two point conversion to tie the game and force overtime. The pass was broken up and the Broncos were on their way to the Super Bowl to face the most explosive offense from that 2015 season.
The Carolina Panthers came into the Super Bowl with a super potent offense featuring Cam Newton and his MVP stats. The Panthers offense was ranked #1 in points per game, yards per game, 6th in defensive points per game, 6th in defensive yards per game and 1st in the league with 39 takeaways. They were a scary balance of explosive offense and suffocating defense, and Cam Newton had been unstoppable that season.
He finished the regular season with 3,837 passing yards and 35 passings TDs while also putting up 636 rushing yards and 10 rushing TDs. The Panthers went 15-1 that season and seemed to be unstoppable, blowing away the Seahawks and Cardinals on their way to the Super Bowl, both of those teams having been favorites to win it all that season as well. It was going to take a smart game plan and one hell of a performance from the Denver defense to slow down this Carolina squad.
The Broncos scored first with a field goal taking a quick 3-0 lead, Carolina took over on offense and got their first taste of what the Denver defense had in store for them. The Denver defense clamped down and began to pressure Newton immediately causing panicked throws and multiple three and outs.
Midway through the first quarter Von Miller strip-sacked Cam Newton and the ball tumbled into the endzone where Malik Jackson would fall on it for a Broncos touchdown. The Broncos defense would add another six sacks for a total of seven for negative 68 yards. On third downs this pass rush was having the desired effect as the Panthers only converted 3 of 15 third downs the entire game.
Denver forced four fumbles and recovered three of them, including the famous “Cam won’t dive” fumble. They also forced Newton into an interception and held him to 265 passing yards and zero passing TDs. Even though Carolina dominated time of possession they couldn’t do anything with it and the Broncos were able to seal the deal with a CJ Anderson touchdown run and 2 point conversion by Peyton Manning late in the 4th quarter.
In then end it was never close and the Broncos won their third Super Bowl 24-10. Cam Newton never looked comfortable the entire game and the Broncos defense saved their best for last as they cashed in on four takeaways and seven sacks to shut down the leagues leading offense.
While statistically they may not rate with the 85′ Bears or 2000 Ravens this defense truly was great, they were able to hold down two future hall of fame quarterbacks (Big Ben and Brady) and that years league MVP (Newton) on their way to the Lombardi Trophy.
In my mind that makes them one of the greatest of all time.
If you enjoyed reading this installment of the “Greatest Defenses of All Time” be sure to head to idpguys.org for the last 3 parts.