Detroit Lions Defense Stands Among NFL History’s Greats


Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin has been the biggest acquisition for a team that has struggled on that side of the ball for decades.  Respect hasn’t come easily for the team, however, and it seems like those on the national stage are reluctant to give credit where credit is due.

Through nine games, the Detroit Lions defense is rated #1 in both yards per game and points per game, with no signs of slowing.  As good as that is, I think most still don’t understand just HOW good this defense has been.

Not including the 2014 Detroit Lions defense, there have been 35 seasons in which a team could boast being #1 in both points and yards by season’s end.  Those seasons were owned by only 15 of the league’s 32 teams, with many of them able to claim multiple seasons of defensive dominance.

You’ll notice I have the Detroit Lions already listed.  That’s because they once had the top defense in the league, all the way back in 1931 when they were the Portsmouth Spartans.  It’s also the last time the team had as good of a start to a new coach’s career as Jim Caldwell has had.  While that’s notable, that’s not even the most exciting part of this honor.

  • Of the 34 seasons in which a team had the #1 defense in both points and yards, 31 made the playoffs.  The three that did not were all prior to 1950.
  • Of the 31 remaining teams, 14 were pre-Super Bowl Era teams and 17 were SB era.
    • Of those 14 pre SB teams, 10 would go on to WIN the Championship!
    • The 1941 New York Giants, 1942 Chicago Bears, 1959 New York Giants, and 1961 San Diego Chargers made it to the big game, but failed to take home the prize.
  • Of the remaining 17 SB era teams, 15 advanced past the Wild Card round of the playoffs; the 1981 Philadelphia Eagles and the 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers (Sorry Pennsylvania!) both lost.
  • Out of those 15 teams, 12 would advance past the Divisional Round.  The 1970 Minnesota Vikings, 1986 Chicago Bears, and 2006 Baltimore Ravens would all fall in that round.
  • 12 teams left.  Conference Championship time.  Four more teams would fall.  The 1976Pittsburgh Steelers, 1979 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers, and 2009 New York Jets all fell just short of making the big dance.  8 Teams would go to the Super Bowl.
  • Out of those 8 Super Bowl era teams with #1 defenses in both points and yards that went on to play in the biggest game of them all, only 1 would fail to win.  The 1969 Minnesota Vikings hold that dubious distinction.
  • SEVEN Super Bowl winning teams held the #1 defense in both points and yards allowed. 

So what Super Bowl era defenses are the 2014 Detroit Lions defense chasing?

  • The 1969 Kansas City Chiefs, winners of Super Bowl IV.
  • The 1972 Miami Dolphins, the only undefeated team in Super Bowl history.
  • The 1985 “Monsters of Midway” Chicago Bears, winners of Super Bowl XX.
  • The 1996 Green Bay Packers led by the Minister of Defense himself, Reggie White.
  • The 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, led by Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks.
  • The 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers, who famously won their team’s sixth Super Bowl.
  • The 2013 “Legion of Boom” Seattle Seahawks, whose feared defense led the team to their first ever championship.

That’s some pretty stellar company to be joining if the Detroit Lions defense can carry them the whole way.  The Steel Curtain, Legion of Boom, Monsters of Midway, Purple People Eaters, and No Name Defense, all named for their punishing play and ability to carry the team to victory.  The 2014 Detroit Lions defense may not have a fancy name yet, but they’ve definitely created a name for themselves and are on their way to joining history.