Friday, January 9, 2009

A Response

Different teams, different times.

Our loyalties skew our perceptions both at the margins and at the extremes. In '90 with the Bad Boys ascendent I watched stretches of their games in the middle of the season where I thought that there had probably never been better team play. It was probably 15-30 games in December and January where they simply battered every opponent, in a similar way. The opposition would quit by the second quarter, you could see it in their body language.

I'm sure if I was to attack the question today I probably wouldn't even find that they had any historically significant stretches from an historical standpoint. But I know what I saw.

The '08 Raven defense isn't remotely close to the '00 one. Put last year's offense with this year's defense and they have a losing record.

It isn't really accurate to call the '08 squad 'more ball-hawking' unless you are simply arguing that more of their success is from turnovers. They've forced 39 turnovers this year, which is very respectable. The '00 team had 51 which is fairly mind-boggling. The '00 team pitched four shutouts and allowed 75 fewer points.

So we will have to settle for the '00 Ravens having the best defense of ever with the '08 one being one of the many runners up. Except, the '00 defense isn't really in that conversation either.

Stuart Chase wrote an article at Pro Football reference discussing some methodology for determining the great defenses. Using two scoring parameters and two yardage parameters he found five teams (the year's Steeler team is the fifth) who led the NFL in all categories. The greatest defense ever may be something of a surprise

1969 Vikings: Post-season failures by the team enabled this dynastic defense to fade into oblivion. The ‘69 Vikings went 1-1-1-1 in our four categories; the ‘70 version went 1-1-1-3 and the ‘71 team went 1-1-2-2. The Vikings had a three year stretch that was never matched. If you add their ranking in each season, you get a total of sixteen. The next best stretches are the ‘84-’86 Bears (24), the ‘86-’88 Bears (27), the ‘85-’87 Bears (27), ‘74-’76 Rams (30), ‘62-’64 Packers (33), ‘72-’74 Steelers (33). The closest modern teams are the ‘95-’97 49ers (38), the ‘99-’01 Ravens (43), ‘02-’04 Bucs (50) and ‘04-’06 Ravens (51).

The ‘69 Vikings allowed 133 points, 0.9 OTA/G, 0.96 ANYAA and 3.47 AYPCA. NFL averages were 301, 2.3, 4.70 and 4.62.

We can see that although the '00 defense doesn't particularly stand out historically, this flavor of Ravens has probably had the longest stretch of dominance - well at least since 1960. To me that is their accomplishment. This year's defense is not quite on par with either the '00 or '06 one, relative to the league, but it is still very good. It is very hard and very rare to be able to sustain a great defense over time. The Bears' longevity from '84-'88 was terribly impressive, but not close to the ten year stretch that the current Raven squad has enjoyed.

1 comment:

  1. I certainly agree that the '08 defense isn't as good (by a wide margin) as the '00 defense was. The only point I was trying to make was that if this year's Ravens team wants to make it to the Superbowl, they will have to be more dominating on defense during the post-season than they were during the regular season. Through one game I believe they have been, they need to do that for another three games.

    I remember back immediately after the Bucs '02 Superbowl victory, a media outlet was interviewing Warren Sapp and asking him where that defense would stand in time vs. the Ravens defense of '00. Sapp's response was something along the lines of "Well, our defense has been doing this for years. That Ravens defense was great, but they were more of a one year wonder. They haven't had the long defensive tradition that we've had."

    I think at this point we've put that argument to rest. The difference between those two defenses - at least primarily - is that while the Bucs were great defensively for years and won a Superbowl at the end of their stretch of dominance, the Ravens simply won their Superbowl at the beginning. If the Ravens win a Superbowl this season or in the next one or two years (assuming their defense will still be strong over that period), I think it's likely to go down in history as one of the greatest multi-year defenses ever, mentioned side-by-side with the Steel Curtain.

    In terms of single season success, the Purple People Eaters of '69 I think would unquestionably have been considered the #1 defense ever, had they won the Superbowl. I wasn't even alive for that season, but from what I've seen of it, frankly I'm not sure how they DIDN'T win it all. Because they didn't, I think it opened the door for the '76 Steelers, '85 Bears, and '00 Ravens to be in that conversation.


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