The NFL’s Best Defense Ever? 2000 Ravens vs. 1985 Bears
By Richard Barnstein
Which NFL teams had the best defense ever for a single season? Many football fans bring up the 2000 Baltimore Ravens and the 1985 Chicago Bears, amongst others. Let’s eliminate some of the other possible defenses considered by giving two strong criteria:
-THEY HAD TO WIN THE BIG ONE! (Super Bowl, World Championship) The 1976 Steelers defense dominated, but lost in the playoffs. In the regular season, they had 5 shutouts in 14 games, and gave up only 138 points, but still, no excuses for not winning it all. In the game they lost in the playoffs, the 1976 Steelers gave up 24 points, one more than the 2000 Ravens gave up in FOUR PLAYOFF GAMES. I do believe that the Steeler’s defense of the 70’s in route to 4 Super Bowl victories was the best defense in any given era, but here, we’re talking about one season.
-THEY HAD TO DOMINATE DEFENSIVELY, THROUGHOUT THE SEASON AND PLAYOFFS, INCLUDING THE SUPER BOWL.
One tremendous advantage the Bears had over the Ravens, in terms of media/press, lies in the big market factor. NY, LA, and Chicago teams generally get much more press and hype, simply because of their location. When fans/media vote on this topic, results tend to be skewed towards the bigger markets, because of much larger populations, and thus larger fan bases. Granted, the Bears had some unique personalities (Fridge, McMahon, ect…), but we’re talking about who had the best defense. The Steelers, with 4 rings in the 70’s had and have a huge, loyal following, with national commercials. (Mean Joe, Coke) The Ravens, with Ray Lewis coming off a murder trial, were loathed by much of the rest of the country, outside of the Baltimore area. So critics and fans across the country commonly found ways to bash the Ravens, but they had to give up when Baltimore won it all with a stifling defense. But many are still disgruntled, especially considering that Baltimore beat up on a New York team in the Super Bowl!
Another important point to bring up is determining greatness. When it comes to defense, I think THE SINGLE BIGGEST FACTOR, OTHER THAN WINNING THROUGH THE PLAYOFFS WITH A DOMINATING DEFENSE, IS THE NUMBER OF POINTS GIVEN UP. When the clock runs out, points are what decide wins and losses. Another crucial factor regarding greatness, is the REFUSAL TO MAKE EXCUSES about “one game’s lack of importance” or whether “the 2nd string played for whatever reason.” When it comes to greatness, these comments, I feel become lame excuses. Then any team could use that as a cop out. For instance, consider if the Ravens were up 27-0 in the fourth quarter, and gave up a few meaningless touchdowns, thus still easily winning something like “30-14.” Wouldn’t it still be better, when analyzing the greatness of a defense, if they won 30-0? Of course, that’s a no brainer. So “meaningless-shmeaningless” doesn’t work in this case.
So, Here’s a fun breakdown comparison of the two teams:
-Points Given Up in a 16 Game Regular Season:
1985 Bears- 198 points (208 pts including 3 playoff games)
2000 Ravens- 165 points (188 pts including 4 playoff games)
Considering the Ravens gave up a little over 10 pts a game, they could have played another two or three regular season games to go all the way up to 198. The Ravens broke the previous record of 187 points for a 16 game season. (Held by 1986 Bears, who couldn’t win big one) by 22 points!
-En Route to Super Bowl Victory, Playoff Points Given Up:
2000 Ravens: 23 points in 4 games
1985 Bears: 10 points in 3 games
One would think on 1st glance that the Bears might have the edge. But two things need to be acknowledged. Firstly, the Ravens had to go on the road for game #2 and game #3, where they allowed only 16 points, to stellar offenses. (Oakland and Tennessee) The Ravens gave up 76 pts in 8 road games (9.5 pts/game) during the regular season, while the Bears gave up 124 pts (15.5 points/game) in 8 road games. So, if one says that the Ravens may have had a weaker regular season schedule, notice how, when it mattered most in the playoffs, on the road, the Ravens gave up less points per game against top teams on the road (8 pts/ game) than even during the regular season. What a defense!
Secondly, in the Ravens/Giants Superbowl, the Giants scored their 7 points on special teams, during a kickoff return. The defense viewed that touchdown from the sidelines. Personally, I think these are all impressive #s, but considering how winning on the road is one of the most difficult things in all of sports, and that the Ravens D gave up no points in the Super Bowl, I’d give the edge to the Ravens, but I’ll call it even to be fair.
-Yards Allowed/Game, Regular Season:
2000 Ravens: 259 yds/game
1985 Bears: 289 yds/game
I feel this stat is a decent stat, but of far less importance than points given up. The bottom line is points. If a defense gives up 300 yds in a game, and gets a shut out, or gives up 14 points and 120 yds, and risks losing, you figure out which matters more. If the team doesn’t score, than they ain’t gonna win! (maybe tie, but not win)
2000 Ravens: #1 in league
1985 Bears: ? (not sure, but I’ll bet it was high)
-How Good Was Their Offense? (Points Scored):
2000 Ravens: 14th/ 333 pts scored
1985 Bears: 2nd/ 456 pts scored
Obviously, the better the offense, the more points, hopefully more clock time, ect… The Bears had some super stars in McMahon, and Payton. The Ravens had players like Shannon Sharpe and rookie Jamal Lewis, but this was a team that went 5 straight games without scoring a touchdown! How’s that for finding ways to get your defense to bail you out?
Strength of Schedule:
2000 Ravens: .428 opponent winning %
1985 Bears ? (but probably better)
I feel you can’t penalize a team for who’s put in front of them. When it comes to playoff time, if the team’s not worthy, this factor should catch up with them. Such was not the case with the Ravens D, but I’ll still give da Bears the edge.
-Regular Season Shutouts:
2000 Ravens: 4 (including 2 on the road)
1985 Bears: 2
The Bears did throw two shutouts in the 1st two games of the playoffs at home, but the Ravens D didn’t do too bad with their only home playoff game, giving up only a field goal against the Broncos.
EDGE: Even (Just to be fair, but I still wanna pick the Ravens!)
-Playoff Opponent’s Offensive Ranking (Points Scored)
Game#1- Denver (2nd)
Game#2- at Tenn. (13th)
Game#3- at Oakland (3rd)
Suprbwl- NY Giants (15th)
Game#1- NY Giants (6th)
Game#2- LA Rams (15th)
Suprbwl-NE Pats (10th)
Key Superbowl Defensive Stats:
Total Net Yds Given up: 152 net yds
Forced Fumbles (Lost): 1
Opponent’s Points: 7
Total Net Yds Given up: 123 net yds
Forced Fumbles (Lost): 2
Opponent’s Points: 10
Great #s on both sides!
-Looking at Some Great Players on Their Defense:
1985 Bears: Singletary HOF
2000 Ravens: Lewis (Certain HOF)
*All of these players made it to at least one Pro Bowl. (Except Siragusa, but he clogged up the middle, and certainly brought personality to the team) Singletary, Lewis, and Woodson have all won NFL defensive player of the year awards, and are considered amongst the best of all time at their positions.
****AWESOME STAT*** In 2000, when the Raven’s offense scored 7 points or more, they were undefeated, including the playoffs! Wow! Think about that one!
**Final Score: Ravens: 4 Edge Points
Bears: 1 Edge Point
****Winner: THE 2000 BALTIMORE RAVENS DEFENSE!****