"Holy Toledo!"

February 25, 2008

Who Was The NFL’s Greatest Defense Of All-Time?

Filed under: NFL — Bill @ 5:04 pm

When you think of the NFL’s greatest defenses ever teams like the 1985 Chicago Bears come to mind, or teams like the ’75 Steelers, the ’86 N.Y. Giants, or the 2001 Baltimore Ravens.

There are a number of ways to evaluate a defense but let’s make it simple. The outcome of the game is determined by points, who scores the most or gives up the least. With that premise in mind there is an easy way to figure out who had the best defense of all-time.

Which team allowed the least amount of points?
Was it the ’85 Bears or ’01 Ravens?
Maybe the ’75 Steel Curtain?

The NFL record for least points allowed isn’t owned by any of those teams. Instead the record belongs to the 1977 Atlanta Falcons.

Yes, that isn’t a typo, I said the 1977 Atlanta Falcons. They own the record for least points allowed at an astonishingly low 129 points (this was in a 14 game season). That’s only 9.2 pts. per game.

First year Falcons head coach Leeman Bennett hired a young brash defensive guru named Jerry Glanville, who used a similar style defensive system that Buddy Ryan later made famous. Glanville’s Falcons would often put 9 defenders up on the line of scrimmage, and opposing QB’s never knew where the blitz was coming from.

Because the Falcons offense was so pathetic (scoring only 12.8 pts. per game, ranked 25th out of 26 teams), the defense never got a chance to rest. On two occasions the Falcons defense held their opponents under 100 yards of offense and LOST!. They finished the season 7-7, out of the playoffs.

Had this defense played in a bigger market like Chicago or New York you can bet that we would have heard much more about them. Instead this terrific defense languished in anonymity. Only two of it’s member made the All-Pro team, DE Claude Humphrey & CB Roland Lawrence.

Here are some mind-popping stats on the ’77 Falcons defense:

They allowed only:
14 TD’s all season (5 rushing, 9 passing)
(That’s only 1 TD per game!)
They allowed 9 passing TD’s but had 26 Int’s
98.9 passing yards per game
13.7 1st downs per game
+23 on the takeaway/giveaway ratio

Here is a comparison of the great defensive teams of all-time (plus this season’s Super Bowl teams).
Points allowed per game (Total points allowed)
9.2 (129) – 1977 Falcons
10.6 (148) – 1977 Broncos (the “Orange Crush”)
11.6 (162) – 1975 Steelers (the “Steel Curtain”)
12.2 (171) – 1972 Dolphins (the 17-0 team)
12.2 (196) – 2002 T.B. Bucs
12.4 (198) – 1985 Bears
14.2 (227) – 1984 S.F. 49ers
14.8 (236) – 1986 N.Y. Giants
16.6 (265) – 2001 Ravens
17.1 (274) – 2007 Patriots
21.9 (351) – 2007 N.Y. Giants

Here is the starting lineup for the 1977 Atlanta Falcons, see if any of these names ring a bell.

DE – Claude Humphrey
DT – Jim Bailey
DT – Mike Lewis
DE – Jeff Merrow
LB – Robert Pennywell
LB – Fulton Kuykendall
LB – Greg Brazina
CB – Roland Lawrence
SS – Ray Brown
FS – Ray Easterling
CB – Rick Byas

Not exactly household names are they,
yet statistically they are the greatest defensive team of all-time.


  1. Indeed, the “Grits Blitz” is hands down the best defense ever. They deserve even more credit because the Falcons offense was so terrible that year. Not sure why they constantly get shunned by the media, but when you see that guys like Tommy Nobis and Claude Humphrey are not in the HOF, one begins to think there is some media bias possibly…

    Comment by McCall72 — March 5, 2008 @ 10:19 am

  2. The 1976 Steelers, from Week 6 to Week 14, gave up a total of 28 points. During the 9 games that completed the 76 season, the steelers managed to shut out 5 teams, while only giving up an average of 3.1 points per game. Regarding the 77 falcons, their Secondary Coach was Jerry Glanville, who would go on to serve at Defensive Coordinator for the Falcons, and later, the oilers. Glanville was a great defensive coach who isn’t mentioned with the greats…

    Comment by Thomas Gerling — May 22, 2008 @ 8:54 pm

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