J.R. Gamble's Pick: The '85 Bears
There have been many great defenses to spearhead a team’s run to Super Bowl glory. In football, defensive supremacy is the key to forming a juggernaut squad. To this day, there’s no proof to suggest that a great offense can beat a great defense, with both units at the top of their games.
While the St. Louis Rams 1999 Super Bowl-winning “Greatest Show On Turf” was one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history, the '85 Bears "Monsters of The Midway" defense, orchestrated by defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan and his revolutionary and impenetrable "46" scheme, would have limited Mike Martz’ super spread offense which featured unprecedented five receiver sets and a running game anchored by Marshall Faulk.
The Bears have four Hall of Famers on that ‘85 team, three of them are defensive wizards Richard Dent, Mike Singletary and defensive tackle Dan Hampton (8 sacks in 1985). The lone offensive HOFer is running back Walter Payton, who carried a huge load on the other side of the ball and retired as the NFL’s leading rusher. They probably could have had about three more defensive players from that defense make the Hall of Fame. They were that iconic.
That '85 Bears team, the first celebrity Super Bowl team covered in the early cable explosion, was mythical in its dominance. Mike Ditka’s Bears led the league in yards, points, first downs and turnovers en route to a 15-1 regular season.
In the playoffs, they obliterated the New York Giants and the Los Angeles Rams and didn’t surrender a TD for 11 playoff quarters before putting a 46-10 shellacking on the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX. As good as that ‘99 Rams offense was, they would have had a hard time against a Bears defense that allowed just 123 total yards with seven sacks and six takeaways against New England.
Whereas St. Louis' '99 squad led with offense, the '85 Bears functioned most efficiently when the D created easy scoring opportunities for crazy Jim McMahon and the balanced Bears attack. The game-breaker in this debate has got to be the "Super Bowl Shuffle" joint the Bears did in '85. Never has a team been so cocky and so right.
On defense, the Bears front seven got all the props and much of that attention is attributed to the popularity of 350-pound William "The Refrigerator" Perry. Perry became somewhat of a cult-icon after Ditka used him on rushing plays a couple of times. In total, the starting defensive line accounted for 26.5 of the team’s total sacks.
The secondary was beasting as well. The unit combined for an unfathomable 20 picks. Strong Safety Dave Duerson and cornerback Leslie Frazier were aggressive and intelligent. Bonecrusher Gary Fencik held down free safety.
The '85 Bears played with a ruthlessness, intelligence and unbridled passion.They wrote the book on blitzing. Richard Dent was the Lawrence Taylor of Defensive Ends for several seasons and he was racking up sacks like Tom Brady and Bill Belichick rack up Super Bowl appearances.
Singletary, a Top 3 all-time player at middle linebacker was the heartbeat of the D. Boss ballers at linebacker like Wilber Marshall and Otis Wilson were as talented as it gets. Ryan’s defense featured nine players who would at some point play in a Pro Bowl.
Before you go saying that the Bears played in the '80s and the Rams played in a more athletic and intricately-schemed NFL and would wear the Bears down with their speed, we have to remember that the'85 Bears had this incredible scheme and possessed a superior athleticism that allowed them a rare versatility.
"I've never seen a defense like that in terms of smothering people, not even letting them move the ball, let alone score," said former Colts and Bucs coach Tony Dungy.
Dungy knows a thing or two about great defenses as he played secondary in the NFL. He coached some down and dirty defenses in Tampa Bay, won the Super Bowl in Indianapolis with an average D and, before becoming the first Black head coach to win a Lombardi Trophy, was known as a genius defensive coordinator.
Some people consider the Bears flashes in the pan because they only won one Super Bowl. However, like St. Louis’ Greatest Show on Turf, the '85 Bears defense had a sustained period of dominance.
In 1984, they set the record for most sacks in a season with 72. In 1986, the Bears allowed 11 fewer points than they did in 1985 and were statistically better than the vaunted Lawrence Taylor-led Giants defense that won the Super Bowl. In 1987, the Bears racked up another astounding 70 sacks.
Kurt Warner would be crying for his mama.
Teams don’t get 10 or 11 sacks in a game anymore. Pass rushing prowess like that is gone in today’s quick-striking NFL and defenses aren’t compiled with the embarrassment of riches that 85’ Bears D possessed. But I do see teams scoring at the same pace that the '99 Rams did, which makes me think the 85’ Bears were just that great and no offense from any era could beat them in the big game.
Alejandro Danois' Pick: The '99 Rams
There's no denying that the '85 Bears was the greatest unit to ever dominate on the defensive side of the ball in the NFL. As my talented colleague previously pointed out, the defensive line, linebackers and secondary were all elite as stand-alone units.
They were indeed viciously dominant and remarkably skilled. Buddy Ryan's "46" defense bum-rushed the league in ways that the modern era had never seen.
But if there was one offense that I think could give them a run for their money, it was the 1999 Rams and their Greatest Show on Turf.
Despite having one of the greatest running backs ever in Walter Payton, the Bears overall offense, which had the overrated quarterback Jim McMahon at the helm, did not keep teams up at night in feare. McMahon only tossed 15 touchdowns that year, against 11 interceptions. Payton was a supreme threat on the ground and the team's leading receiver.
But the receiving corps left much to be desired. People will talk about speedster Willie Gault, bet let's keep it real. He only caught 33 passes with one touchdown all year. And other than the most die-hard Bears fan, no one speaks with any reverence when discussing the pass-catching corps of Dennis McKinnon, Ken Margerum, Emery Moorehead and Tim Wrightman.
People forget, due to their offensive pyrotechnics, that the '99 Rams had one of the NFL's best defenses that year. And for all of the accolades that the passing attack received, it was a defensive play, the game-winning tackle by Mike Jones against the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV that cemented their world championship.
They say that styles makes fights, and St. Louis had an attack that could put points on the board against the best of the best. The Bears were built for their era of smash-mouth football, but would be ill-equipped to deal with the fast-paced, precision passing attack employed by Rams offensive coordinator Mike Martz.
Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk was the epicenter of the attack. He averaged close to six yards per carry en route to 1,381 yards, and also caught 87 passes for an additional 1,048 yards.
The offense would flood the Bears secondary with five receivers that stretched the field, utilizing a dizzying array of formations, pre-snap motion and confusing shifts. Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner's prowess was based on his exceptional timing and precision in delivering pin-point passes in space where his receivers could turn short passes into long gains. They could also outrun a secondary and break your back with 80-yard touchdown bombs.
Yes, they'd have to deal with one of the most sinister pass rushes ever, but they would use that against the Bears, turning their strength into a weakness with quick screens, draw plays to Faulk, and constant play action. We're talking about an offensive unit here that set a new NFL record for total offense with 7,335 yards. And let's not forget that they employed the greatest offensive lineman to ever play the game in Orlando Pace. To automatically assume that the Bears defense would destroy the Rams offense is something that I wouldn't recommend.
Warner, a two-time league most valuable player, had an embarrassment of riches at his disposal. The speed of the Rams receiving corps would have that vaunted defense grasping for air. Faulk, Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Az-Zahir Hakim and Ricky Proehl were the perfect complimentary pieces for Warner to play with, and they are still the only squad in the illustrious history of the league to score 500 or more points in three consecutive years.
They led the NFL in passing with 4,580 yards, yards per pass attempt and total offensive yards. Warner threw a remarkable 41 touchdown passes. And the Rams were monsters in the kick and punt return game as well, with Hakim, Ron Carpenter and Tony Horne adding insult to injury.
The only blemish that the '85 Bears suffered was at the hands of the great Dan Marino when Miami ruined their undefeated season by a score of 38-24. So, as great as they were, they could be had. And in looking at this matchup, I truly believe that the Greatest Show on Turf could not only give them a run for their money, but they'd take 'em out!