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Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll is interviewed after Super Bowl XLVIII against the Denver Broncos at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Seattle Seahawks defense the greatest of all-time? A statistical breakdown


The Seattle Seahawks dominant 43-8 victory over the Denver Broncos has created an awful lot of criticism directed against Peyton Manning for being a “choker” and whatnot, but I think it’s ridiculous that we’re overshadowing the Seahawks defensive performance in order to feed some anti-Manning narrative that’s convenient. He had a poor game, and I’m not going to defend him from that, especially since I’ve been a little bit more critical of Manning in the past than most people. But at the same time, it is clear to me that the source of the struggles of the Broncos offense in this game can be attributed to maybe the most dominant defense in NFL history. Defensive wizards Pete Carroll and Dan Quinn came into the game with a perfect game-plan that included some impressive tape watch of one of the all-time greats, and it’s hard for me to believe that the greatest offense in the history of the game could suddenly play like this unless if the Seahawks are the greatest defense in the history of the game.

Up until this point, the team that has been referred to as the greatest defense in NFL history is the 1985 Chicago Bears, who are one of the greatest teams in the history of the game. They ripped through just about everyone with their innovative “46″ defense, as only Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins spread offense had an answer to Buddy Ryan’s bunch. But the funny thing is that a comparison between both defenses seems to favor the Seahawks. Yards per pass attempt allowed and yards per carry allowed are the best stats to use when evaluating defenses, because they measure efficiency. Below is a comparison of key stats between the teams. Note: A lower league average obviously means that defenses had it easier in that era.

Net yards per attempt

2013 Seattle Seahawks: 4.8, first in the league (6.2 league average)

1985 Chicago Bears: 4.8, second in the league (5.8, league average)

Yards per carry allowed

2013 Seattle Seahawks: 3.9 yards, seventh in the NFL (4.2 league average)

1985 Chicago Bears: 3.7 yards, sixth in the NFL (4.1 league average)

Points per game allowed

2013 Seattle Seahawks: 14.4 points per game allowed, league’s best (23.4 league average)

1985 Chicago Bears: 12.4 points per game allowed, league’s best (21.4 league average)

Interceptions

2013 Seattle Seahawks: 28, most in league (15.7 average)

1985 Chicago Bears: 34, most in league (21.5 average)

Total yards per play allowed

2013 Seattle Seahawks: 4.4 yards per play, best in league (5.4 average)

1985 Chicago Bears: 4.4 yards per play, best in league (5.0 average)

So you can see that the statistics show that the 2013 Seahawks defense and 1985 Bears defense are very similar teams, but I would say the Seahawks are the better defense overall when you look at the amount of yardage they allowed per play. The points per game totals are a wash, as both teams were nine points per game better than the yearly averages of their different eras. But when you look at the yards per play allowed, the Seahawks have a pretty significant advantage.

It’s so much harder to play defense today in our pass-happy league, and the rule changes also impact how defenses play and how many yards they allow due to penalties. The fact that the Seahawks have overcome those challenges to surpass the ’85 Bears in adjusted yards per play allowed is very impressive, and the era in which the “Legion of Boom”, the underrated linebacking corps, and the deep, elite stable of defensive linemen are dominating is almost unheard of success. Seeing Peyton Manning and his “Four Horsemen” torch defenses to massive records isn’t surprising, but watching the Seahawks stifle those guys and stymie countless other opponents with their depth, versatility, and coaching is a wonder to behold.

They only allowed at least 350 yards of total offense on three occasions, and their EPA on defense was negative in just four games. The Seahawks also had seven games in which they forced at least three turnovers, and one of those games was in the Super Bowl. Watching them dominate a Broncos team that was previously dominant in the regular season was much more impressive than watching the Bears beat up on the New England Patriots in their Super Bowl victory.

The Bears aren’t the only amazing defense in NFL history, but they are commonly referred to as the best defense- and for good reason. But they were also helped by a league that had no idea how to stop the gimmicky “46″ defense, and I’m sure they would be beaten senselessly by the Broncos spread offense, which could do nothing against the elite, deep Seahawks defense that can’t be beat by any one style of offense. It wouldn’t be fair to compare the ’85 Bears defense to today’s offenses, but you’ll see that the statistical breakdowns above are very fair and paint the picture of a Seahawks defense that needs historical adjustment to be seen best.

An average of 4.8 yards per attempt allowed is certainly ridiculous, and it means that the Seahawks made the average passing offense that they faced worse than the league’s worst passing attack, which was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at a net yards per attempt average of 5.0. Chew on that for a moment, because it’s crazy.

It’s even crazier to have the kind of depth and talent the Seattle Seahawks have on defense in this era’s financial set-up, because juggling star talent is harder than ever before. But the Seahawks have built their defense on undervalued FAs like Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, as well as unheralded pre-draft youngsters like Richard Sherman and Walter Thurmond. So before you shell Manning and the Broncos, take the time to appreciate the greatest defense in NFL history, because they proved their worth by slaughtering the best offense in NFL history in just about every facet. Sometimes, it’s better to praise the great ones instead of berating the great ones who got beat.

Or you could just run through the list of players on the Seahawks defensive depth chart to really break down that greatness.

Speaking of the great ones, all of the stats in this piece were found on Pro Football Reference, which is definitely a Hall of Fame football site on the web.


Tags: Dan Quinn Featured Notes And Analysis Pete Carroll Popular Seattle Seahawks

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  • Robert

    You choose to ignore the 2000 Ravens (far superior — by any measure — to the 85 Bears). Ok. Then you don’t even recognize that the 86 Bears defense was better than the 85 Bears. (A team doesn’t need to win a Super Bowl to have a great defense). But even ignoring those obvious facts, what a bizarre conclusion. For the stats you choose to cite, the Bears are better or tied in every one, and then you conclude the Seahawks are better. Very strange indeed. I also am not buying the Bears had 34 interceptions per game, nor the Seahawks 28 interceptions per game. Granted I have not seen all of their games, but that’s a lot of interceptions and I’m sure I would have heard about that on SportsCenter.

    • http://www.musketfire.com/ Joe Soriano

      I saw your comment and was like, “Robert makes some points here,” so I decided to run through the PFR numbers for the 2000 Ravens and 86 Bears. While I wouldn’t rank the ’00 Ravens over the ’13 Seahawks due to Seattle’s decisively better pass defense (they were also the slightly more efficient defense overall, overcoming the Ravens ridiculous 2.7 YPC allowed), the ’86 Bears did indeed have a better D than the ’85 version statistically. And their raw numbers were actually better than Seattle’s. However, they also faced an easier schedule, as PFR’s SOS gives Seattle a strength of schedule that is 4.1 points higher (that’s significant) and an overall DSRS that is better.

      That wasn’t enough for me to swing things (Bears allowed less points per game even when adjusting for era), so I looked at both defense’s yard per play averages. The Bears D allowed 0.9 yards less per play, but the Seahawks ’13 D allowed a full yard less per play than the league average. The ’86 Bears also didn’t force as many turnovers.

      Feel free to bring up any further points, because there’s nothing I love more than an analytical football discussion. As for the “interceptions per game” error, I initially wanted to use a “per game rate” for INTs before deciding to simplify things by just using the “overall” totals. Haha, 34 INTs per game could work if Brandon Weeden faced the ’85 Bears with a WR corps of Donnie Averys and an OL composed of the Giants backup OL.

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