The continuing itch of a statistical STD

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Feb 24, 2009



Like our ex-girlfriends and various STDs, Defensive Passer Rating is going to haunt us like a painful itch throughout the off-season, as we use the down time to slice and dice this tremendous metric from every possible angle.
 
Two weeks ago we used Defensive Passer Rating, a CHFF Quality Stat, to size up the best pass defense of the Super Bowl Era and we revealed to the world that the secret to success of the great Steel Curtain was not its overrated run defense, but that the Steelers of the 1970s produced the most consistently great pass defenses the game has ever seen.
 
That original list of best pass defenses of the Super Bowl Era also confirmed something that Cold, Hard Football Facts readers already knew: it's not fair to compare teams from the Dead Ball Era (1966-1977) with teams from the Live Ball Era (1978-present). After all, almost every team on that original list played in the Dead Ball Era.
 
Naturally, we wanted to size up who boasted the best pass defenses of the Live Ball Era, that is, which teams have found the ability to shut down opposing passing attacks despite playing in a period of pro football that gives all the advantages to the offense.
 
Here's the list, followed below by some interesting Cold, Hard Football Facts that we draw from the list.
 
Greatest Pass Defenses of the Live Ball Era (by Defensive Passer Rating)
 
Team
Record
DPR
Team Result
1
1988 Vikings
11-5
41.2
Lost div. playoff
2
1982 Dolphins
7-2
44.9
Lost SB XVII
3
1980 Redskins
6-10
47.8
Missed playoffs
4
2002 Bucs
12-4
48.4
Won SB XXXVII
5
1986 Bears
14-2
49.9
Lost div. playoff
6
1978 Rams
12-4
50.2
Lost NFC title
7
1982 Bills
4-5
50.9
Missed playoffs
8
1985 Bears
15-1
51.2
Won XB XX
9t
1978 Steelers
14-2
51.8
Won SB XIII
9t
1981 Cowboys
12-4
51.8
Lost NFC title
11
1978 Broncos
10-6
52
Lost div. playoff
12
1991 Eagles
10-6
52.1
Missed playoffs
13
1978 Cowboys
12-4
53.7
Lost SB XIII
14
1987 49ers
13-2
53.8
Lost div. playoff
15t
1978 Giants
6-10
54.2
Missed playoffs
15t
1984 Seahawks
12-4
54.2
Lost div. playoff
17
1990 Steelers
9-7
54.3
missed playoffs
18
1981 Eagles
10-6
54.4
Lost wildcard playoff
19
1996 Packers
13-3
55.4
Won SB XXXI
20
1991 Saints
11-5
55.5
Lost wildcard playoff
21
1986 49ers
10-5-1
55.8
Lost div. playoff
22
2003 Patriots
14-2
56.2
Won SB XXXVIII
23
1978 Eagles
9-7
56.3
Lost wildcard playoff
24t
1979 Steelers
12-4
56.4
Won SB XIV
24t
1979 Oilers
11-5
56.4
Lost AFC title
 
Some reactions to the list:
 
The line between the Dead Ball and Live Ball Eras is fuzzy
Sure, the NFL opened up the rulebook in favor of offense before the 1978 season, launching the Live Ball Era.
 
But it took a couple of years for style and strategy to catch up with the rules. Just look at this list: six of the top 25 pass defenses of the Live Ball Era played in 1978; two more played in 1979.
 
The great 1986 Bears
The 1985 Bears immediately jump to the mind of most football fans when listing the greatest defenses in modern football history.
 
But as the Cold, Hard Football Facts have pointed out in the past, the Bears defense actually reached its peak in 1986: the 1985 Bears surrendered 198 points, while the 1986 Bears surrendered 187 points.
 
The 1986 Bears were also superior in the Defensive Passer Rating department: 49.9 vs. 51.2.  
 
Montana's career-making performance
Every football fan old enough remembers "The Catch" – the toss from Joe Montana to Dwight Clark that lifted the upstart 49ers to victory over the mighty Cowboys in the 1981 NFC championship game and launched the San Francisco dynasty.
 
It's interesting to note that this performance came against one of the single greatest pass defenses of the Live Ball Era. The 1981 Cowboys boasted a stifling 51.8 Defensive Passer Rating.
 
As an interesting aside: everybody also remembers who Clark beat in the corner of the end zone to make "The Catch" – the victim was Cowboys defensive back Everson Walls.
 
The image probably haunts Walls to this day. It also overshadows what should be known as one of the great seasons in NFL history: Walls picked off 11 passes that year. Nobody has matched that mark since (11 players have picked off 10 passes in a season).
 
The Steel Curtain dominates here, too
Every Steelers team from 1973 to 1977 is among the all-time leaders in Defensive Passer Rating.
 
The Steel Curtain continued to dominate on pass defense in the Live Ball Era, too. Both the Super Bowl champion 1978 and 1979 Steelers reside here on the list of the Top 25 Live Ball Era Defensive Passer Rating leaders.
 
Great pass defenses still lead to great teams
As we noted on the earlier list, teams that play great pass defense have a very high likelihood to be great teams. This Live Ball Era list merely confirms it.
  • 23 of 25 teams had winning records
  • 20 of 25 teams reached the playoffs
  • 8 of 25 teams reached the Super Bowl
  • 6 of 25 teams won the Super Bowl

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