No doubt, this will spark a debate. And no doubt, that debate will be pretty vicious. But it is difficult to vote against the 1985 Bears as the best NFL defensive team in history.
First, consider this: the Steelers Steel Curtain Defense, the Miami No-Name Defense, and the Dallas Doomsday Defense, all of the 1970's, operated in an era prior to the change of passing rules enacted in 1978. In the early years of the 1970's, there was no five yard, no-contact rule for defensive backs covering recievers. Yes, they were all great defenses with Hall-of-Fame players on them, but scoring was generally lower in that decade. Run-first, pass-second was still the rule.
Those defenses dominated in an era when offenses were far from the high-powered standard of a decade later. The '85 Bears attacked and took no prisoners in a pass-happy, high-scoring era of pro football. And in that year, set a record (which stood for more than a decade) for least points allowed in a season (198).
In 1985, they held opponents to 65 points fewer than the next best defensive team. People remember the 1985 Bears for the personalities of Ditka, McMahon, and the Fridge and for the Super Bowl Shuffle. But behind the media coverage, they were the real deal. They boasted Hall-of-Famers Dan Hampton (DL) and Mike Singletary (MLB). That number may move to three in the future if defensive lineman Richard Dent gets selected to the Hall. Dent retired as the third-leading sacker in pro football history and in the 1985 season, led the league with 17 and a half sacks. In addition, the defense had no fewer than five Pro Bowlers: Hampton, Singletary, Dent, Dave Duerson and Otis Wilson.
And now we will come to the area of greatest contention of the 1985 Bears: the scheme. The Buddy Ryan designed 46 defense, you will hear, was a one-year wonder. It was terribly unsound. Offenses learned how to defeat it with short drops and timing routes. All this may be true. However, before teams eventually did learn to defeat it, it was devastating. And the argument is not, would this defense be great today, for that is a pointless debate. The question is, how much did they dominate in the year in which they played?
For the 1985 Bears, after a few slippery games at the beginning of the season, the answer is: almost totally. They continually applied the pressure, and few teams could cope for long. And despite the emphasis in fans' minds on the pass rush, the '85 Bears allowed only 1319 rushing yards, lowest in the league.
But let us take a look at something that truly proved the 1985 Bears mettle: how they performed when it really counted - in the playoffs. In the first two playoff games, against high-quality teams, when the pressure was on, the Bears allowed a total of zero points. That comes to, let's see, an average of zero points per game. Once they had the Super Bowl safely tucked away and sent in the subs, they allowed the New England Patriots all of ten points.
When the going got tough, the 1985 Bears defense got even tougher. That is reason enough to consider them the greatest NFL defense of all time.
Go from best all-time defensive professional football team to best all-time professional football running back.
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