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Awesome defenses

Ravens, Giants stack up with all-time great defensive units

Click here for more on this story
Posted: Tuesday January 23, 2001 7:33 PM

  Tyrone Wheatley, Ray Lewis Ray Lewis has led the NFL in tackles in three of his five seasons in the league. Tom Hauck/Allsport

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- Dominating NFL defenses often attract catchy nicknames: Steel Curtain, No Name, Doomsday, Fearsome Foursome.

No one has figured out what to call the Baltimore Ravens' record-breaking unit, although head coach Brian Billick thinks "best ever" might fit. After all, the Ravens rode it right into the Super Bowl.

"Call us the Swarming Bees, the Killer Bees," defensive end Michael McCrary said. "We're like something you could put together on Playstation. Like when you were a kid growing up and you got all the best kids together and dominated other neighborhoods. Our defense is awesome. It's hard to believe the talent and speed and camaraderie."

The Giants believe they have the same elements on the defensive side of the ball. Certainly Michael Strahan thinks so.

"We've got 11 guys that play very well together," the defensive end said. "The confidence level is no one can score on us. That's the way we feel."

Both teams are equipped with impressive credentials. The Ravens have allowed 16 points in three playoff games and the Giants are coming off a shutout of Minnesota in the NFC championship game.

Both are big, fast and very good, and they follow formulas common to other great defenses.

Black & Blue graphic Click on image for a larger view. CNNSI.com  

Nick Buoniconti, a finalist for election to the Hall of Fame and longtime broadcaster for HBO's Inside the NFL, played for Miami's No Name squad, a team that sailed through the only undefeated season in history.

"The first thing it takes is teamwork," he said. "The linebackers, the defensive backs, the defensive linemen all knew each other's assignment. Everybody knew what everyone else was doing. There were no surprises. That makes a solid defense. Breakdowns are mental mistakes. That was the way our team was."

Buoniconti said the Dolphins were close, but not perfect.

After the Super Bowl, defensive coordinator Bill Arnsparger looked at film of the 17-0 season.

"He said we made 13 mental mistakes the entire year," Buoniconti said. "If we were beaten, we were beaten physically. That means volumes. You've got to be unselfish and disciplined. We set a record with 147 points against in 1972.

"It takes great players to execute. You can't have freelancers. You have to eliminate mental mistakes."

Dallas head coach Tom Landry christened the Dolphins' defense No Name, and Buoniconti still bristles at it.

  Plenty to Rave About graphic Click on image for a larger view. CNNSI.com

"We were not No Names," he said. "We were a cerebral team."

Perhaps the most dominating defensive player in NFL history was Hall of Famer Dick Butkus, now the director of football operations for the XFL, which begins play next month.

Butkus said there was nothing complicated about his approach.

"It takes desire to make the play within the context of the defense," he said. "It depends on the desire to get it done. If you apply that to offense, you could say the same thing.

"It's the desire to make two blocks instead of one. You tell yourself 'Don't get blocked, no matter what.' You need the desire to do your assignment and then you move out to help. They'll never have enough blockers that way."

Defense requires an aggressive mindset, Butkus said.

"It's me against you," he said. "I don't care if you're bigger. There's no zipper on your chest to measure your heart. Ray Nitschke, Tommy Nobis, Deacon Jones and Alex Karras had that desire. All the great ones have it. They're the ones that rise above. Maybe they're not the physical specimens, but they have the heart for it.

"Everybody takes care of their assignments. That's no big deal. But if I just take care of mine and I'm satisfied, what if another guy lets up? If you come to block me, if I defeat you, there's no one else left. Once I get by, I'm free to make the tackle.

"The mental part is when you line up. I'd say, 'I've got to make the tackle. I can't rely on someone else.' Never be complacent. If everybody blocks their man, it will be a standoff. The trick is to get two blocks."


 
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