Want to dominate in the NFL? The most sure-fire way to get there is to build a great pass defense.
Of course, it's easier said than done.
More important than running the ball well or stuffing the run, maybe even more important than passing the ball well
on offense, frustrating opposing passers appears to be the one aspect of team football most likely to guarantee success.
We've slowly been building these charts of the best teams ever in various major categories
, rush offense, pass offense, rush defense, etc., both in the Super Bowl Era and throughout history. Today we take a look at the 25 greatest pass defenses of the Super Bowl Era. The chart appears below (with data culled from The ESPN Pro Football Encyclopedia
It's pretty enlightening. Almost every single team on the list made the playoffs, nine reached the Super Bowl and seven won the Super Bowl. That's a pretty dramatic rate of success when compared with the rate of success of historically great rushing offenses and defenses, or historically great passing offenses.
It makes sense, too. As the Cold, Hard Football Facts have proven in the past, it's much more important for offenses to pass the ball effectively than it is to run the ball effectively. Naturally, then, it's much more important to play great pass defense than it is to play run defense.
The exception that proves the rule
Only one of the 25 greatest pass defenses of the Super Bowl Era had a losing record. Of course, that team was the 4-5 Bills of the strike-shortened 1982 season. Clearly, the lone anomaly in the list comes with some extenuating circumstances (as statistical anomalies in football so often do ... more on that phenomenon later). Remember, 1982 was so messed up that a kicker, Washington's straight-ahead dinosaur Mark Mosley, took league MVP honors.
The Purple Passer Eaters ruled
If any team has frustrated its fans more than the Vikings, we don't know about it. Throughout the late 1960s and 1970s, the Vikings fielded many of the most dominant teams in history
. And nobody fielded a more consistently dominant pass defense than the Vikings of 1969 to 1972, the famed Purple People Eaters. Minnesota's entire defensive line, Carl Eller, Gary Larsen, Jim Marshall and Alan Page (all pictured here from VikingUpdate.com
), reached the Pro Bowl in 1969. Coupled with all-time INT leader (81) Paul Krause in the secondary, nobody ate up passers better than this crew.
Offenses during this period averaged about 7.0 yards per pass attempt (roughly the same as today). Yet over this four-year stretch, the Vikings allowed opposing offenses just 5.21 yards per attempt (just 4.95 YPA from 69-71).
These Vikings fielded three of the five most dominant pass defenses in history – and have nothing to show for it. The 1975 Vikings also make the list, giving Minnesota five of the 25 greatest pass defenses of the Super Bowl Era.
Don't forget the Steel Curtain!
Naturally, the most legendary defense in history makes the list with three of the 25 toughest pass defenses of the Super Bowl Era. The 1973, 1974 and 1975 Steelers all make the cut below. It's interesting to note that the Steelers dominated defensively by dominating opposing pass attacks. The Steel Curtain was certainly good against the run. But it was not historically good against the run, as it was against the pass. This phenomenon simply reinforces the fact that it's more important to play pass defense than it is to play run defense.
What's up with the Falcons?
Nobody would ever guess it, based upon the franchise's utter lack of success, but Atlanta fielded some of the most dominant defenses in history in the 1970s. In fact, the 1977 Falcons still stand as the stingiest single defense of the Super Bowl Era
, allowing a miniscule 9.2 PPG. Three of those 1970s Falcons teams are on this list. But they stand as an exception to the rule: none of those Flacons teams made the playoffs.
The 1971 Falcons are a true mystery. They boasted one of the greatest passing offenses of the Super Bowl Era
(8.75 YPA) and one of the greatest pass defenses of the Super Bowl Era (5.53 YPA). It's a statistical recipe for massive success and all-around dominance – yet they went just 7-6-1.
Praise for the Pack defense
We've made a lot of noise about the secret to Green Bay's success in the 1960s: the most consistently and ruthlessly efficient passing offense in history, one led by the greatest quarterback ever, Bart Starr
. The Packers might have softened offenses with the run, but they shredded them with the pass.
However, the legendary 1967 Packers, winners of the Ice Bowl, a third straight NFL championships and a second consecutive Super Bowl, had another weapon in their arsenal: the best pass defense of the Super Bowl Era.
It's a rather unexpected position, too. While the Packers consistently fielded great defenses in the Lombardi Era, they never came close to the pass-defense dominance of the 1967 team. The average of 4.88 YPA was a full yard better than any other Green Bay pass defense of the 1960s.
It might have been the greatest pass defense in history. You have to go all the way back to the talent-depleted World War II years, and the 1943 Bears (4.21 YPA), to find a pass defense that was better than the one fielded by the 1967 Packers.