Here we are folks, the moment you have been waiting for. This is my next installment of Top Ranked NFL Players and Teams Post 1990. So far, I have covered the Top Quarterbacks, Top Running Backs, Top Wide Receivers and Top Tight Ends. Now it is time to take a look at my Top 10 Ranked Defenses Post 1990. When it comes to Defense, there are also parameters just like with the other positions. However, this is a team unit so many factors will go into coming up with a standout list. I don’t know about other people, but Defense has always been my favorite side of the ball when it comes to Football. When we take a look at the Top Defenses of all-time, we think of the 1985 Chicago Bears, the 1972 Miami Dolphins (No Name Defense), the 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers (Steel Curtain), the 1970-1974 Minnesota Vikings (Purple People Eaters), 1973 Los Angeles Rams, and the 1977 Atlanta Falcons. Of course, since the existence of the NFL, there have been many Great Single Season Team Defenses. This post will focus on the Top 10 Defenses since 1990, the past 23 Years. I am sure there will always be many debates regarding which of these prior teams were the all-time greats, The 1973 Dolphins had a Perfect Season and won the Super Bowl…so it would be hard not to mention them in conversation as the Top NFL All-Time Defense. Of course, the 4-6 Defense of the 1985 Bears, a team that went 15-1 and won a Super Bowl, also deserves a lot of votes. The Steel Curtain and Purple People Eaters will always be ranked at the top as well. So without further a due, here are my Top 10 Defenses Post 1990.
(2011 SanFrancisco 49ers Defense)
The 2011 version of the San Francisco 49ers may very well have been their best unit ever during the Franchise’s long storied career. First of all, the team compiled a 13-3 Record, won the team’s first Division Title since 2002, and advanced to the NFC Championship Game. In 2011, Jim Harbaugh took over as the Team’s Coach and immediately there was a change in philosophy. Although the offense proved to be more than sufficient and better than average, the team’s Defensive Unit carved a niche in the NFL’s record book.
First of all, the 2011 Defense became the first unit in NFL history to not allow a rushing touchdown through the first Fourteen Games of the Season, a miraculous feat. The team only allowed three rushing TD’s all season, which was tops in the NFL. The three touchdowns allowed was the fewest since the NFL adopted the 16 Game Schedule in 1978 and is tied for fifth all-time. More impressive was their streak of Fifteen Games without allowing a rushing touchdown, which dated back to 2010. This 15 Game streak is tied with the 1985 Bears for the best all-time in the NFL. This team boasted 5 Pro-Bowl Players from the Defense, lead by Patrick Willis. The team set a franchise record for the highest Turnover Differential at (+28). Maybe the most impressive stat of all was the fact that the team’s Defense did not allow a 100 Yard Rusher all season and set a Franchise Record of 36 Games without allowing a 100 Yard Rushing Game.
As far as Statistics go, the team compiled 42 Sacks, 23 Interceptions, 24 Fumble Recoveries, and Seven Defensive Touchdowns. The team ranked 2nd In overall points allowed and 4th in Total Yards. The Team was 1st overall against the Run and 16th against the Pass. The team also had 1 Shutout and 12 Games of allowing less than 20 Points. In the post season, the 49ers Upset the high flying New Orleans Saints and took the eventual Super Bowl Champion New York Giants to overtime, where they lost 20-17. Who knows, had the ensuing punt return not been muffed by the 49ers, that team may have won the Super Bowl. Regardless of the ending, this Defensive Unit was top notch and definitely earns a spot in my Top 10.
(1991 New Orleans Saints)
In 1991, the New Orleans Saints won their first ever Division Title, and reached the Post Season for the Second Year in a Row. The 1991 Saints Defensive Unit had 48 Takeaways, which is tied for the most by any team in one season during the entire 1990’s. That season, statistically they were ranked second only to the Philadelphia Eagles, who also make this list. The Saints Defense was built around their all-pro Line Backing Core of Sam Mills, Vaughn Johnson, Pat Swilling and Rickey Jackson. The first three made the Pro-Bowl.
Line Backer Pat Swilling was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1991 and the Saints Defense allowed a league low 211 Points that season. The Saints had 50 Sacks, 24 Interceptions, 28 Fumble Recoveries and 2 Defensive Touchdowns. The Saints were Ranked 1st in Points allowed and second in overall defense behind the Eagles. They were second against the run and the pass behind the Eagles, who were 1st against both the run an pass. This marked the first time in history that the top two defenses were 1 and 2 in both categories.
The 1991 Defensive Unit was built under Defensive Coordinator Steve Sidwell. NFL films has actually ranked the Line Backer Unit as the best total unit in NFL history. They allowed less than 20 Points in Twelve of Sixteen Games, and allowed less than 10 in six games, posting Two Shutouts and Four Games where they held a team to only field goals. Obviously, 1991 was a season of many great Defenses, so unfortunately not every team could make this list. However, this Saints team made noise and this was the first successful season in team history as far as winning their first Division Title.
(2008 Pittsburgh Steelers)
The 2008 Version of the Pittsburgh Steelers culminated in another Super Bowl Title. The Steelers had the most difficult schedule in the NFL season, which makes what they accomplished even more amazing. This Steelers Defense did not have the notoriety nor the bravado of big name players but they sure did produce. The Steelers held opponents to an average of 13.9 Points Per Game, including points given up on Special Teams and Offensive Giveaways. As mentioned, this Steelers Defense faced Five of the Leagues Top 11 Offenses this season.
The 2008 Steelers allowed 205 Points, which was First in the NFL. This Defense had a bend but not break mentality. They allowed 237 Yards per game and 3.9 Yards per Play, both Tops in the NFL. James Harrison was voted the NFL Defensive Player of the year and the Steelers Defense sent three players to Hawaii. As mentioned, the Steelers were ranked number one in fewest points and yards allowed. They were ranked first against the pass and second against the run. The team posted 51 Sacks, 20 Interceptions, 22 Fumble Recoveries, and 6 Defensive Touchdowns.
The Steelers had a decent offense in 2008, but there was no question that their Defense was the backbone of the team. This Steelers team went 12-4 and won their division. The season culminated in a Super Bowl Championship and most of the accolades went to the Defense. They held teams to an incredible Fifteen Games with less than 20 Points and posted 1 Shutout. This Steelers Defense may not have the fame of the “Steel Curtain” defenses of the seventies, however they spoke with action.
(2000 Tennessee Titans)
When the year 2000 in the NFL is analyzed, it’s very easy to overlook the Titans Defense that Season because the 2000 Baltimore Ravens are continually hailed as the best Defense that Season and they even are mentioned in conversation as being the best Defense Ever. However, Tennessee was no slouch that season. In fact, they were statistically better than the Ravens as far as yards allowed. The 2000 Titans went 13-3 and won the Division. The team entered 2000 as the reigning AFC Champions, having lost in narrow defeat in the Super Bowl to the Saint Louis Rams. The Titans allowed less than 20 Points in 14 Games and had back to back shutouts to end the regular season.
The Titans were Second in overall points allowed and First in Yards Allowed. They were First in Passing Yards allowed as well as Touchdown Passes and Third in Rushing Yards Allowed. They only gave up 7 Rushing Touchdowns all Season long. The Defense posted 55 Sacks, 17 Interceptions, 23 Fumble Recoveries and 4 Defensive Touchdowns. Of course, after an awesome and dominating season, the titans were upset by the eventual Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens. Although the Ravens always get all of the accolades for their defense in 2000, we must not forget the Titans who also were a powerhouse in the AFC against all of the High Scoring Offenses.
(2005 Chicago Bears)
The 2005 Chicago Bears were built on strong Defense. Defense has always been the Bears forte and this season was no different. The Bears went 11-5 after losing three out of their first four games. Coach Lovie Smith anchored the Defense while also playing Head Coach. The 2005 Bears gave up 202 Points and were ranked First in Points Allowed while rating second in total yards. They were Fifth against the Pass and only gave up 10 Passing Touchdowns all Season. Their Run Defense was ranked 11th, however they were fourth in touchdowns giving up only Nine rushing Touchdowns.
The Bears, who were lead by All-Pro Middle Linebacker Brian Urlacher, had 41 Sacks, 24 Interceptions, 28 Fumble Recoveries and Four Defensive Touchdowns. The Defense may not have had the gaudy stats that these other Defenses had, but Chicago had the Leagues 26 Ranked Scoring Offense and 29th Offense in Total Yards. They also had 17 turnovers, 15 Inside Enemy Territory which put the team at a major disadvantage many times. However, the team persevered after their poor start and went on a rampage towards the end of the season.
The 2005 Bears Defense gave up less than 15 Points in 13 Games. This team also overcame adversity losing a few star players to injury. This team may not have been as good as the 1985 Bears, but 20 Years later they sure did play with the same type of swagger. Defensive Back, Nathan Vasher also set an NFL Record with a 108 Yard Return of a missed Field Goal. They had many special moments that season, which is why they make this list.
(2006 Baltimore Ravens)
The 2006 Baltimore Ravens Defense may not be the 2000 version, however they were a close second to that unit in Baltimore Football Lure. The Defense once again carried a Raven’s team to a Division Title. They started the season 4-0 and went on to post a 13-3 Record to win the AFC North. However, they lost to the Indianapolis Colts in the Divisional Round, who eventually went on to win the only Super Bowl of Peyton Manning’s career.
The 2006 Ravens were ranked First in Points and Yards Allowed. They were sixth against the pass and second against the run. This offense was much better than the 2000 version, however, they did not set the world on fire either. The Ravens boasted 60 Sacks, 28 Interceptions, 23 Fumble Recoveries, and Seven Defensive Touchdowns and 2 Safeties. The team was once again lead by their Pro Bowl Middle Linebacker Ray Lewis, who posted a career high in sacks (5) and Interceptions (3). Safety Ed Reed had 52 Tackles, and Five Interceptions, in which one he returned for a score.
The Ravens held opponents to less than 20 Points in 13 Games. They also posted Two Shutouts. The team was (+17) in turnovers and only allowed 3.9 Yards Per Play. The 2006 Ravens just hit a wall in the playoffs as they lost to the Colts, despite only giving up Fifteen Points to the Indy Offensive juggernaut. They actually did not give up a touchdown, only allowing five field goals. However, their offense was only able to muster 6 Points on two Field Goals of their own.
(1990 New York Giants)
In 1990, the New York Giants went 13-3 under Bill Parcells. The Giants won the NFC East, and dominated the playoffs, ultimately beating the Buffalo Bills in one of the most dramatic Super Bowls ever, 20-19. During their three playoff games, the Giants did not give up more than 20 points in a game, and held the Bears to 3 Points in the Divisional Round. This team was dominant, moreover, it was lead by it’s Defense. This Giants Defense was ranked First in Points Allowed with a team record 211, while Finishing Second in Yards Allowed at 4.6 Yards Per Play.
The Giants had 30 Sacks, 23 Interceptions, 23 Fumble Recoveries, and two Defensive Touchdowns. Four Defensive players including Lawrence Taylor and Pepper Johnson went to the Pro Bowl. Lawrence Taylor lead the team with 10.5 Sacks, and also chipped in an Interception which he returned for a Touchdown. The Giants allowed opponents to score more than 20 Points only twice and were very stingy in the red zone. During the season, they only gave up 21 Touchdowns, Nine on the Ground and Twelve through the air. The team’s Defense propelled them to the Super Bowl and was dominant in the playoffs.
(1991 Philadelphia Eagles)
People can call me a homer or whatever they like, but I am one of the people that ranks this 91′ Defense, not only in the Top Post 1990, but also the Top All-Time. You will get no argument from me that the 85 Bears, 72 Dolphins, 76 Steelers, 2000 Ravens, and 2002 Buccaneers are better, but that is it. I remember the 1991 season like it was yesterday. The Eagles had high expectations and many picked them to make the Super Bowl.
During Week #1, the Eagles lost Star Quarterback for the season with a knee injury. First of all, I will cite the fact that this Defense had the second best Pass Defense ever to the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and only the 2000 Ravens had a better Run Defense. That season, the Eagles allowed only 3.9 Yards Per Play, when the next best was 4.5. The Eagles were Fifth in Points allowed but ranked First in Yards, both against the Run and the Pass. They actually bested the next best team, the 91′ Saints by over 400 Yards Less. 3 Out of their Four Defensive Linemen were all-pro (Reggie White, Jerome Brown, and Clyde Simmons. Linebacker Seth Joyner and Cornerback Eric Allen also joined them in the Pro Bowl.
The Eagles only allowed 4 Rushing Touchdowns and 16 Passing Touchdowns. Ironically, their offense only had 17 Passing Touchdowns all season. They had the 25th Ranked Offense and were 18th in Points Scored. What made this Defense stand out was the position they were put in when Randall went down. Jim McMahon played 11 Games, Jeff Kemp Started Two, and Brad Goebel two. Goebel had Zero Touchdowns and 6 Interceptions. Their Running game was also dreadful with a 3.1 Yards Per Carry Average.
That Eagles Defense recorded 54 Sacks, 26 Interceptions, had 37 Fumble Recoveries and scored 5 Defensive Touchdowns. Reggie White and Clyde Simmons had double digit sacks (15/13), and Jerome Brown contributed Nine More. Safety Andre Waters lead the team with 156 Tackles, followed closely by Line Backer Seth Joyner with 110 Tackles and 2 Defensive Touchdowns. Although this team did not even make the post season, the eye test tells a truer story of this unit. They were “FEARED” around the league as evidenced by the infamous “House of Pain Game”, where they created Eight Turnovers and held the Houston Oilers to 21 Yards Rushing and Six Points. The 91 Eagles put up the second best numbers against the run and the pass in NFL History, so doing so in one season is inconceivable. Finally, the Eagles played in the toughest Division of the Time (NFC East), while the Bears who most consider the best played in the putrid NFC North.
(2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
The 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers shocked the world as well as the NFL when they won the Superbowl, beating the favored Oakland Raiders. The Bucs were Ranked First in both Points Allowed and Yards. This Defense gave up a League low 196 Points and only 18 Total Touchdowns. The Buccaneers were Number One against the pass, actually setting an NFL Record for lowest yards allowed. Likewise, they were stingy against the run, ranking fifth in yards allowed and second with Eight Rushing Touchdowns allowed.
The team finished with 43 Sacks, 31 Interceptions, 16 Fumble Recoveries and Six Defensive Touchdowns. Simeon Rice lead the way with 15.5 Sacks and Warren Sapp was second with 7.5. They sent six defensive players to the Pro Bowl that year. Tampa went 12-4 under head coach John Gruden. This was his first season as their coach. Ironically, he had coached their Super Bowl oppponent Raiders previously. They gave up more than 20 points only twice, had two shutouts and dominated the league. The New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles were the only two teams to really put up points against this stellar defense.
The reason this team is ranked so high is that they highly contributed to the team’s run and sub sequential Superbowl win. The Bucs left most of their defensive magic for the playoffs in which they created 13 Turnovers, close to an NFL record in the post season. They created Five Defensive Turnovers in the SuperBowl, leading them to their first ever championship in team history. This is yet another team that shined all the more because their offense was atrocious. For the entire season the Bucs Defense gave up only 2,490 Yards Passing and Ten touchdowns. Ronde Barber, their cornerback and brother of the Giants Tiki Barber was the lynchpin on Defense and John Lynch brought the pain.
(2000 Baltimore Ravens)
The 2000 Ravens, maybe one of the best defenses to ever play the game were special. They were ranked first in points allowed and second in yards allowed. The team only gave up an astounding 165 Points. This was really not a team built on stats, but more so results.
The Ravens only gave up 970 Yards Rushing, an NFL Record. They also only gave up Five Rushing Touchdowns to a paltry 2.7 Yards Per Carry Average. They also recovered 26 Fumbles. They had Four Shutouts, and only gave up more than 20 Points Once all Season. Ray Lewis was once again the leader of this team. The Ravens were also porous on Offense just like the 91′ Eagles and 02’Buccaneers. Ultimately, the Ravens went to the SuperBowl where they upset the heavily favored New York Giants. What also made that special was they were the First Wild Card team to win the SuperBowl. They only gave up a total of 23 Points in Four Playoff Games (Less than 8 Points a Game). WoW!! This team was definitely one of the all-time greats and they are hands down Number One on my list Post 1990.
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