The year was 1991. The setting was Opening Day of the 1991 NFL season between the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers. The Eagles were coming off a season in 1990 in which the team scored 396 Points and Rushed for 2,556 Yards. Both of these were tops in the league and the 2,557 yards rushing was the most for any NFL Team during the 1990’s. The Eagles finished 10-6, which was good enough for second place in the NFC East and a First Round Playoff Game against the Washington Redskins. Unfortunately, the Eagles were one and done as they lost 20-6 to the Washington Redskins.
Ok…fast forward to 1991. Game One of the 1991 Season and all the high expectations for a Philadelphia Franchise that was seeking its first Super Bowl Championship. Buddy Ryan had been fired as Head Coach and Rich Kotite took over as the head honcho. On the very first play from scrimmage against the Green Bay Packers in Week #1, Bryce Paup hit Randall Cunningham in the Knee, essentially knocking him out for the season. At this point, most people also thought the Eagles season was over on that play.
At this point, the 1991 Eagles Defense flexed its muscle and was not going down without a fight. The Eagles lead the league against the pass and rush giving up the fewest yards in both categories. Only the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a better pass defense as far as statistics, while only the 2000 Ravens had a better run defense. The 1991 Eagles version was more balanced than both of those teams.
Whenever a debate comes up regarding the NFL and what Teams had the best Defense ever…there is always disagreements and arguments for certain teams. There are Seven Defenses that make this list and they are:
1) 1973 Los Angeles Rams
2) 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers-one of the Steel Curtain Teams
3) 1977 Atlanta Falcons
4) 1985 Chicago Bears
5) 1991 Philadelphia Eagles
6) 2000 Baltimore Ravens
7) 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers.
It’s important to note that all of these teams ranked #1 in Points Allowed besides the 1991 Eagles (5th) and the 1973 Rams (4th). However, the Eagles had a much less competent offense to complement their defense, particularly their running game which when used right can keep the Defense off of the field and refreshed. The Eagles Offense that year also had 43 Giveaways that year, the most by far of any of these seven teams. So, instead of limiting the other teams offensive opportunities, the Eagles offense actually gave these teams more chances to score. They still only gave up 244 Points, which is an amazing stat considering their enormous amount of turnovers.
Another fact that has to make the Eagles the Number 1 Defense is the fact that the team had the 26th ranked offense and 21st ranked rushing attack that year. Combine that with strength of schedule and you have to seriously consider them as the Number One Defense. That year, the Eagles defense faced 3 Games against Top 3Scoring Offenses and 4 Games against Top 5 Scoring Offenses (Both Scoring/Yards), the most by far of the seven teams.
The Eagles Defense compiled 26 Interceptions as well as 22 Fumble Recoveries which was second to the Chicago Bears who had 34 Interceptions and 20 Fumble Recoveries. Bid Carson, who also was the architect of the Steel Curtain Defenses, was the Mastermind of this Eagles Defense. The only knock on this Eagles Defense is that the Team failed to make the Post Season. However, they started Five Different Quarterbacks an still came away with a very respectable 10-6 Record.
Reggie White, arguably the Greatest Defensive Player ever to play in the NFL was the anchor of this Eagle’s squad. In 1991, White had 15 Sacks. His counterpart, Clyde Simmons had 13 Sacks. Both Defensive Ends collected 100 Tackles a piece, which is an astounding number for a Defensive End, let alone any two on the same team. At Defensive Tackle, 2 Time Pro Bowler Jerome Brown had 9 Sacks of his own that year and over 50 Tackles. Brown was tragically killed in a car crash a season later.
Seth Joyner, who led the Linebacker Corps had 7 Sacks, 6 Forced Fumbles, 3 Interceptions and over 100 Tackles. Byron Evans, his counterpart also had over 100 Tackles for the season. Eric Allen, the leader of the Defensive Backfield, earned his second of six Pro Bowl selections and will certainly end up in Canton as a Hall of Famer. Andre Waters and Wes Hopkins were the Safeties and no one wanted to face either of them this year. The 1991 Eagles Defense also played in the toughest Division in Football.
The 1991 Eagles Defense led the league in fewest yards allowed against the rush, the pass, and overall. They also led the league in sacks, forced fumbles, and takeaways. Half of the Eagles total Defense made the 1991 Pro Bowl. What more does one have to show to prove that this Defense was definitely Number One. The 1991 Eagles Defense had 55 Sacks, 26 Interceptions and 22 Fumble Recoveries.
Lets take a quick glance at the 1991 Defensive Roster:
DE- Reggie White, Clyde Simmons, Mike Pitts, Mike Golic, and John Booty.
DT-Jerome Brown, Mike Pitts
LB- Seth Joyner, Byron Evans, William Thomas, Rich Miano.
CB- Eric Allen, Izel Jenkins, Ben Smith, Otis Smith.
S- Andre Waters, Wes Hopkins
What would have happened to this team if the “Ultimate Weapon”, Randall Cunningham was not lost for the season in Game #1? Seriously people, we started 5 Quarterbacks that season including Jeff Kemp, Pat Ryan, Brad Goebel. The Eagles did have Jim McMahon but he was injured for half of that season also. All of these factors contribute to the idea that the Eagles all the more battled adversity and the Defense was the heart and soul of that team.
According to the DVOA (Defense Adjusted Value Over Average), a system that analyzes efficiency using all sorts of statistical criteria, the Eagles by far had the best Defensive Season when looking at this system. The Eagles Defense scored 20 Total Touchdowns that year, which was Five less than the offensive total of 25. That is a huge disparity for anyone that understands football.
Yes, The 1985 Bears/2000 Ravens/2008 Steelers/1976 Steelers all won a Super Bowl. So if we go by that formula, the Eagles would be at the bottom. However, it’s pretty safe to say that the Eagles would have at least contended for a SuperBowl in 1991, had Randall Cunningham not been lost for the season. All of these Defenses were great. And we also cannot forget the Undefeated 1972 Dolphins Defense. But these teams also had better than average offenses. In my mind, the 1991 Eagles get the nod for best Defense Ever.