Defenses target new standards of stingy

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Oct 12, 2006



(See the companion piece, "Firing blanks")
 
If you feel like your team can't punch the ball in the end zone this year, well ... you're not alone. Offenses have hit a sudden roadblock this season after three decades of rising scores.
 
In fact, defenses have been so dominant this year that there are no fewer than four teams with a reasonable shot at setting a new Super Bowl Era record for scoring defense.
 
The stingiest defense of the Super Bowl Era was fielded by the 1977 Falcons, who surrendered just 9.2 PPG. (The 25 toughest defenses of the Super Bowl Era are listed below.)
 
The four teams on pace to meet or exceed that mark this season are:
  • Baltimore: 9.2 PPG
  • San Diego: 9.0 PPG
  • Denver: 8.5 PPG
  • Chicago: 7.2 PPG
The scorching defense is impressive on its own. But it's truly unbelievable when we put it into historic context.
 
As Cold, Hard Football Facts loyalists know, the Super Bowl Era can be broken down into two distinct phases: the Dead Ball Era (1966 to 1977) and the Live Ball Era (1978 to present).
 
What's the difference? Well, scoring became exceedingly difficult during the Dead Ball Era, culminating in a 1977 campaign that marked the low point for offense in modern NFL history. The 1977 season featured the stingiest defense in modern history (the aforementioned Falcons, 9.2 PPG) and the most inept offense in modern history (the 1977 Buccaneers, who managed a pathetic 7.4 PPG).
 
In an effort to boost scoring, the NFL instituted a series of rule changes after the 1977 season. The Live Ball Era was born, and scoring rose steadily for nearly three decades, culminating in a 2004 season when passing records fell like panties at a prom and scoring reached an all-time high (43.0 PPG).
 
The NFL's institutional effort to boost scoring made it far more difficult for defenses to meet the stingy standards of the Dead Ball Era. Thirteen of the 14 stingiest defenses in modern NFL history, for example, played in the Dead Ball Era. So, too, did the most famous defenses in modern NFL history. Dallas's Doomsday Defense, Pittsburgh's Steel Curtain, Minnesota's Purple People Eaters, Denver's Orange Crush, Miami's No-Name Defense and the Rams' Fearsome Foursome were all products of the Dead Ball Era.
 
The Super Bowl champion 2000 Ravens (No. 9 overall) were the only Live Ball Era defense to crack the top 14 stingiest defenses of the Super Bowl Era.
 
Which brings us back to today, and the sudden reversal of offensive fortunes in the NFL. It's doubtful that the Ravens, Chargers, Broncos and Bears will all keep up their torrid defensive pace.
 
But it's not unreasonable. Our money is on the Bears, though, thanks to a very favorable schedule. Their combined opponents the rest of the way are just 20-33 (.377), with their toughest date a Nov. 26 visit to New England. Even then, it won't be easy. The Bears need to hold their final 11 opponents to a total of 111 points (10.1 PPG) to surpass the 1977 Falcons.
 
If all goes well, they may find themselves at the very top of this list of the 25 stingiest defenses of the Super Bowl Era. At the very least, barring a massive defensive collapse, it seems like Chicago will find itself somewhere among the best defenses of all time.
 
And in this day and age, that's no small feat.
 
25 stingiest defenses of the Super Bowl Era
Team               
Games
Pts. Allowed
PPG
Record
Result
1977 Falcons
14
129
9.21
7-7
Missed playoffs
1969 Vikings
14
133
9.50
12-2
Lost SB IV
1975 Rams
14
135
9.64
12-2
Lost NFC title game
1976 Steelers
14
138
9.86
10-4
Lost AFC title game
1971 Vikings
14
139
9.93
11-3
Lost div. playoff
1971 Colts
14
140
10.00
10-4
Lost AFC title game
1970 Vikings
14
143
10.21
12-2
Lost div. playoff
1968 Colts
14
144
10.29
13-1
Lost SB III
2000 Ravens
16
165
10.31
12-4
Won SB XXXV
1977 Rams
14
146
10.43
10-4
Lost div. playoff
1977 Broncos
14
148
10.57
12-2
Lost SB XII
1973 Dolphins
14
150
10.71
12-2
Won SB VIII
1975 Steelers
14
162
11.57
12-2
Won SB X
1966 Packers
14
163
11.64
12-2
Won SB I
1986 Bears
16
187
11.69
14-2
Lost div. playoff
2000 Titans
16
191
11.94
13-3
Lost div. playoff
1973 Vikings
14
168
12.00
12-2
Lost SB VIII
1968 Chiefs (AFL) 
14
170
12.14
12-2
Lost div. playoff
1978 Steelers
16
195
12.19
14-2
Won SB XIII
1972 Dolphins
14
171
12.21
14-0
Won SB VII
2002 Buccaneers
16
196
12.25
12-4
Won SB XXXVII
1985 Bears
16
198
12.37
15-1
Won SB XX
1978 Broncos
16
198
12.37
10-6
Lost div. playoff
1971 Dolphins
14
174
12.43
10-3-1
Lost SB VI
1972 Steelers
14
175
12.50
11-3
Lost AFC title game
1973 Raiders
14
175
12.50
9-4-1
Lost AFC title game

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