Battle Of The Best: 2013 Seahawks Defense vs. 1969 Minnesota Vikings
There have been many stories about what defense stands as the best in the history of the NFL. This series intends to trump them all. The 2013 Seattle Seahawks defense belongs in the conversation for all-time great defenses, but it is unclear exactly how they compare to the legendary 2000 Ravens, 1985 Bears, the vaunted Pittsburgh Steel Curtain and others. One-by-one, I will examine the 2013 Seahawks versus titans of years gone. We will look at numbers that compare apples-to-apples as best as we can across generations and rule changes. It is not clear where the Seahawks stand as we begin. The goal is to be objective and to enjoy the battle. Next up, the 1969 Minnesota Vikings. The Purple People Eaters.
No player comparisons: Generalities about players are irrelevant because they are just opinion. Number of Pro Bowlers or Hall of Famers often reflects popular opinion more that actual talent. Should someone want to quantify the quality of each player at each position and aggregate the total talent, I would love to read it. Until then, we will look at the whole team performance.
Relative > Absolute: A team that holds opponents to 11.4 points per game (ppg) sounds better than a team that holds opponents to 14.2 ppg. But when the average offense scored 15 ppg in the year of the first team and the average offense scored 27 ppg in the year of the second team, the judgment should shift. We will heavily slant toward how the team performed in the era/year in which they played. This will also help to account for rule changes.
Quality of opponent matters: A team that has the best opponent scoring average in the league, and does it during a year when scoring is way up sounds dominant. But what if they played in the 2005 NFC West? Who you play, and how you perform against those opponents needs to be taken into account.
Strength of offense: A defense that has to make up for a horrible offense gets extra credit. We will compare the offenses these defenses played with at a high level.
Championships: It should not be the ultimate arbiter, but it does have to be factored in. A defense that ends the year as a champion deserves credit for the ultimate accomplishment, and one that fails in that game deserves additional scrutiny.
Analysis versus facts: I will give my opinion at the end of each article about which defense was superior and why. You may come to a different conclusion. The facts should not be disputable. My interpretation of them is open to debate.
Round 1: Yards Allowed
League Avg Yards/Game
299.4 / 300.3
-3.3 / -3.2
You will noticed two values for the Vikings. The first represents the result if we just focus on the teams playing in the NFL. The second expands the sample to include the 10 AFL teams as well. Considering there was a Super Bowl played that year, I plan to pay more attention to the second value in each column. As we kick things off, it does not much matter which value you take. The Vikings wipe the floor with Seattle here. Not only do they allow close to 100 fewer yards per game, which is nuts, but their performance was incredibly unique in the era in which they played. Being a full three standard deviations below the norm is jaw-dropping.
Looking at gross yards allowed gives an overview, but it is important to look at yards surrendered per play. A defense that is on the field longer because their offense cannot move the ball will face more plays and more total yards allowed. They should not be penalized for it.
League Avg Yards/Play
4.9 / 4.9
-3.5 / -3.6
This could be a long day for the Seahawks. Minnesota is on a different plane of existence so far. They increase their already large lead when looking at a per play basis. The Vikings blow by Seattle in round one.
Round 2: Points Allowed
League Avg Points/Game
20.9 / 21.0
-3.5 / -3.4
More of the same. It is interesting to see how little the averages and deviation from the norm changes when the AFL is added in. That takes a 16 team league and increases it by 10 teams, so I’d expect a little more of a shift. In any event, the Vikings continue their otherworldly performance and take another comfortable lead before we look at the per play numbers.
League Avg Points/Play
0.341 / .342
-3.27 / -3.25
It did not matter if you were looking at gross numbers or isolating per play with this defense. They just kicked the crap out of their opponents. Another easy win for the Vikings in this round.
Round 3: Schedule
Up to this point, we have been comparing the two defenses performance against league averages. But neither the Seahawks nor the Vikings played every opposing offense in the league. We need to get specific about which offenses they played, and how they did relative to the averages of those offenses.
Aggregate Opponents PPG
The Vikings 14 regular season opponents scored an average of 19.3 points per game, below the league average (21.0 w/AFL). Seattle faced opponents who averaged slightly below the league average (23.4). The Vikings were so dominant that they, alone, likely account for why the teams they played were below the league scoring average in aggregate. Even with a lower average score, they still were more dominant against their competition than the Seahawks.
Let’s step away from the regular season for a moment though and just see how both teams did against the best offenses in the league that year. The best versus the best.
GMs VS TOP 10 OFF (incl playoffs)
+/- Opp Avg
This is a little bit misleading in that there were only 16 teams in the NFL, and I counted the Super Bowl against Kansas City in the AFL. Still, the Vikings faced their share of strong offenses and held their own in those games. Only three teams scored more than 14 points against them all season.
Minnesota had a powerhouse team, that seemed destined for a Super Bowl title, but five turnovers in the championship game led to their undoing. The defense could not make up for miscues, falling behind 16-0, and eventually losing 23-7 to Len Dawson, Hank Stram, and the Chiefs. This is a pretty big dent in the armor of the Vikings case for best defense of all-time. Yes, their offense failed them in the big game. Yes, it was just one game. But the defense had made up for offensive failures in other games, and not stepping up on the biggest stage has to affect their standing among the greats. Seattle beat three great opponents and quarterbacks in the playoffs, and an all-time offense in the Super Bowl. That earns them a win in this round.
Round 4: Takeaways
League Avg Takeaways/Game
2.4 / 2.5
1.2 / .99
Seattle finished the season ranked #1 in points allowed, yards allowed and takeaways, the first team to do that since the 1985 Bears. The Vikings finished second in takeaways, and were less of a standout relative to the year they played. Seattle gets a clear victory here.
Round 5: Offenses
Let’s take a look at just how much help or harm the other side of the ball did to these defenses. Admittedly, I will not go is deep here or else this would turn into an equally long assessment of each offense. Instead, we will stick to some absolute numbers and get some relative information via league rankings.
OFF PPG Rank
OFF YDS/GM Rank
The Vikings had a great offense, but their defense was so dominant that it put their offense in great position to put up good numbers. Look, for example, at how they led the league in scoring, but only needed to be 10th in the league in yardage to do it. Seattle earns a bit of a bump in this round, but not as much as the numbers would indicate on face value.
Winner: 1969 Minnesota Vikings
Even with a loss in the biggest game, this group of Purple People Eaters stands head-and-shoulders above the 2013 Seahawks defense. They were the definition of dominant. Their numbers stand for themselves, even without taking era into account. When you add in that lens, they were like Shaquille O’Neal playing against high schoolers most of the time. I have a hard time believing any other defense will put up numbers like that the rest of this competition, but we shall see.
Keep an eye out for round five of the Battle of the Best when the Seahawks will take on the 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers.