'86 Giants ranked among all-time best defenses

Posted Feb 22, 2016

NFL Media senior analyst Gil Brandt ranked the best defenses in NFL history

If Super Bowl 50 taught us anything, it’s that defense still wins championships.

The Denver Broncos claimed their third Lombardi Trophy earlier this month by holding Carolina’s No. 1 scoring offense to 10 points. They sacked Cam Newton six times and forced four turnovers, including one for a touchdown. With Denver’s 24-10 victory, teams that ranked first in total defense are now 10-2 in the Super Bowl.

The dominant performance sparked a conversation about where the 2015 Broncos rank among the all-time great defenses, and NFL Media senior analyst Gil Brandt tackled the subject.

As the former vice president of player personnel for the Cowboys from 1960 to 1989, Brandt placed Denver third on the list, two spots ahead of the 1986 Giants. The 1985 Bears took home the crown.

“Like the rest of the teams on this list, the 1986 Giants absolutely steamrolled their playoff opponents, allowing a combined 23 points -- 20 of which came in Super Bowl XXI,” Brandt wrote. “That's right: New York held the Joe Montana-Jerry Rice Niners to three points and shut out the Redskins in the NFC title match before beating John Elway's Broncos for all the marbles. And the Broncos' 15th-ranked offense was the lowest-ranked of the bunch, with San Francisco (third) and Washington (fifth) landing in the top five.

“Hall of Famers Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson were outstanding, as was fellow linebacker Carl Banks, but New York didn't have any shutdown corners or outstanding defensive linemen.

This team won more because of scheme than an overabundance of defensive talent. [Hall of Fame coach Bill] Parcells and coordinator Bill Belichick knew how to make the most of each guy, getting their players in the right place and not giving up big plays. They knew how to adjust to stop the opponent of the day. I speak from experience. When we played them in the regular-season opener, we beat them, 31-28; when we saw them again in November, we lost, 17-14.”

Meanwhile, Mike Ditka’s Bears still remain the standard-bearers according to Brandt, who was putting together teams in the same conference and era. The 1985 Bears shut out the Giants in the divisional round as they went on to win their first Super Bowl in franchise history.

The loss motivated the Giants to do the same a year later.

“Bill Parcells told me this is the best defense he's ever faced,” Brandt said.

“The Bears trampled offenses in the regular season before going on an astonishing playoff run in which they shut out the Giants (21-0) and Rams (24-0), then beat the Patriots by 36 points in Super Bowl XX -- during which they held New England to 7 rushing yards. Between coordinator Buddy Ryan and a unit that included some really good players -- defensive ends Dan Hampton and Richard Dent, linebackers Mike Singletary and Otis Wilson and safeties Dave Duerson and Gary Fencik -- Chicago's defense won with both superior scheming and superior talent, collecting 34 interceptions and 64 sacks. Not for nothing, Chicago's point differential of 258 remains the fifth-best mark since 1970.

“I was with the Cowboys when we played this team, and the Bears just manhandled us, romping to a 44-0 win. Chicago did benefit from having the No. 1 rushing attack that season, which helped limit the amount of time the defense spent on the field. But the bottom line is, the Bears shut people down by relying on man coverage, blitzing a lot and taking away the run. People really couldn't do anything against them.”


1. 1985 Chicago Bears
Yards allowed: 258.4 per game (first in the NFL). Points allowed: 12.4 per game (first).

2. 2000 Baltimore Ravens
Yards allowed: 247.9 per game (second). Points allowed: 10.3 per game (first).

3. 2015 Denver Broncos
Yards allowed: 283.1 per game (first). Points allowed: 18.5 per game (fourth).

4. 2013 Seattle Seahawks
Yards allowed: 273.6 per game (first). Points allowed: 14.4 per game (first).

5. 1986 New York Giants
Yards allowed: 297.3 per game (second). Points allowed: 14.8 per game (third).