Best Pass Defense Ever: Ronde Barber And The 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Cold, Hard Football Facts for May 10, 2013



Captain Comeback Scott Kacsmar took a long look today at Ronde Barber's Hall of Fame qualifications.

Nestled among the many individual accomplishments is one incredible team accomplishment: Barber and the 2002 Buccaneers won the franchise's only Super Bowl largely on the backs of one of the great pass defenses in history, and certainly the greatest pass defense of the Live Ball Era (1978-present), at least by one notable measure.

Below is a look at the 25 best pass defenses of the Live Ball Era, based upon Defensive Passer Rating. The 2002 Buccaneers (48.4) come in at No. 4, ahead of legendary units like the 1985 Bears or the last two champions of the Steel Curtain Steelers.

It's the lowest DPR, the best pass defense, of the past 24 seasons, a rather significant chunk of pro football history.

More impressively, Tampa's Defensive Passer Rating that year was 30.2 points below the league average (78.6), the greatest disparity in the history of the NFL. (Not a perfect measure, as inflated modern ratings mean greater opportunity to beat the league average; but still a figure that makes the 2002 Bucs a historically significant defense.)

In other words, you could argue that Barber and the Bucs fielded the best pass defense in modern NFL history and maybe of all time.

Clearly, the game has evolved greatly, even within the Live Ball Era. The league-wide passer rating in 1978 was 62.1. In 2012, it was 83.8.

It took offenses several years to catch up with the rule changes that spawned the Live Ball Era and truly adapt to the new game. That 62.1 league-wide passer rating figure provides plenty of evidence that the passing game was still fairly primitive by today's standards at the dawn of the Live Ball Era.

But this evolution only serves to show how great that Bucs defense was in 2002.

Tampa Bay then concluded its only Super Bowl-winning season with one of the great defensive performances in history: the Bucs picked off Raiders quarterback and 2002 NFL MVP Rich Gannon five times, returning three of those INTs for touchdowns.

The league's top quarterback that year was held by the Bucs to a 48.9 passer rating in the Super Bowl, nearly identical to their season-long DPR.

It's one of those signature team-wide performances that often help marquee individuals like Barber make it into the Hall of Fame.

Top 25 Pass Defenses of the Live Ball Era, 1978-present (SB champs; conference champs)

 

RankTeamRecordDPRNFL DPRDifference
11988 Vikings11-541.270.6-29.4
21982 Dolphins7-244.970.6-25.7
31980 Redskins6-1047.871.3-23.5
42002 Buccaneers12-448.478.6-30.2
51986 Bears14-249.971.5-21.6
61978 Rams12-450.262.1-11.9
71982 Bills4-550.970.6-19.7
81985 Bears15-151.270.7-19.5
91978 Steelers14-251.862.1-10.3
101981 Cowboys12-451.870.5-18.7
111978 Broncos10-652.062.1-10.1
121991 Eagles10-652.174.2-22.1
131978 Cowboys12-453.762.1-8.4
141987 49ers13-253.872.6-18.8
151978 Giants6-1054.262.1-7.9
161984 Seahawks12-454.273.2-19
171990 Steelers9-754.375.0-20.7
181981 Eagles10-654.470.5-16.1
191996 Packers13-355.475.0-19.6
201991 Saints11-555.574.2-18.7
211986 49ers10-5-155.871.5-15.7
222003 Patriots14-256.276.6-20.4
231978 Redskins8-856.362.1-5.8
241979 Oilers11-556.467.8-11.4
251979 Steelers12-456.467.8-11.4

 








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